The Pacific Grove Planning Commission looked to the past when it denied three affordable housing units in downtown at 301 Grand Ave last month. On Wednesday, Oct. 2, the City Council looked to the future.
The council voted 6-1 to accept the developer’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s denial. (Councilmember Cynthia Garfield voted no, not because she didn’t support the one-bedroom units, but because she thought the design needed more work.) Just a month earlier, on Sept. 5, the Planning Commission denied the project, citing problems with its proximity to residential neighbors, the parking garage design and other issues.
Some commissioners were troubled by the history of the project, which started as an eight-unit development three years ago and then later grew to include three units over the parking area. The original plan did not require Planning Commission approval, but had it started as 11-units, it would have come to the commission for review.
On Wednesday, councilmembers were willing to put the past behind them and set aside at least some of the design concerns for the ultimate prize of the three affordable units that will chip away at the city’s state requirement, known as the Regional Housing Needs Assessment. The city’s required RHNA goal is 115 new units by 2023. Since 2015, when the assessment period began, the city has achieved 16 units, leaving 99 to go, said Community Development Director Anatazia Aziz.
“This is one of those rare occasions when we can dead-on accomplish one of our goals squarely,” said Councilmember Nick Smith. “Our region and our state are changing rapidly and we need to embrace that change and be flexible enough to adapt to it.”
At least two neighbors situated behind the development asked the council not to allow the construction of the three units. The neighbors have consistently showed up to past meetings of the Architectural Review Board and the Planning Commission to argue that the two-story development would rob them of privacy and would create traffic and parking issues downtown.
Unlike many other public meetings throughout the region where large numbers of residents turn out to protest a new project with few arguing in favor of more housing, Wednesday’s meeting was markedly different. Speakers included one man in his 30s who said rents were too high in Pacific Grove so he moved back in with his parents in Salinas and commutes an hour to work.
Two employers spoke, a restaurant owner, who said some of his employees moved farther away due to rising rents and had long commutes, and Barbara Meister, public affairs director for the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Meister told the story of one employee, a single father raising a 13-year-old son, who is spending 70 percent of his income to live in Pacific Grove. The lack of affordable housing negatively impacts the Aquarium’s ability to attract and retain employees, she said.
Also advocating for the three units was Matt Huerta, housing program manager for the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership. The organization produced a position paper formally endorsing the project.
“We typically endorse much larger developments involving housing and mixed-use housing across the region, but this one I was very compelled to say something,” Huerta said. “Many communities, including Pacific Grove, are struggling with how to achieve affordable housing goals. It’s not easy, it’s messy [and] it’s complicated.”
The council directed the staff to make some changes, such as removing three parking spaces from the garage area. The small space required vehicles to back out of the garage on to Grand Avenue, which was seen as potentially unsafe, even though the architect, Safwat Malek, said they could install mirrors. One ADA parking space will be retained in the garage for the ADA downstairs unit in the original building.
That building now under construction also includes retail and professional offices downstairs—including a second dental office for owner and Monterey dentist Ayman Adeeb—and moderately priced apartments upstairs.