Grow Up Already

“It’s a big night,” Monterey planner Ande Flower says ahead of a hearing on rezoning part of downtown. “It’s sort of my career night.”

Like the rest of California, Monterey is suffering from a housing shortage. The city is pursuing several fixes and they’re all aimed at increasing the density of housing within existing neighborhoods – in other words, more apartment buildings. How to get real estate developers to build is the focus of the city’s principal planner, Ande Flower.

In December, Flower will present three proposals for Monterey City Council to vote on that would authorize or encourage new construction.

The most significant item, scheduled for Dec. 17, is a change to zoning rules in a four-block area in downtown. It’s a 7.4-acre area bounded by Franklin, Figueroa, Del Monte and Camino El Estero streets with commercial activity including several auto shops and a laundromat.

Because there’s a three-story limit on buildings and a density cap of 30 dwelling units per acre, new development doesn’t pencil out, Flower says. Under the proposed change, four stories would be allowed and the density cap would be calculated collectively across the 7.4 acres, limiting construction to 30 units per acre on average. The idea is that developers could build bigger and taller buildings, fitting more apartments onto a parcel, making an investment worthwhile.

Flower says proximity to services, public transit and recreation – and the fact that there are no nearby homeowners who might object – make this the ideal site for building upward. The city’s Planning Commission agreed, voting unanimously on Oct. 22 to recommend the change, despite concerns over parking.

On Dec. 3, City Council will consider changes to the zoning of the area between Garden Road and Highway 68 near the airport. A major change was already approved in June, allowing housing where only commercial use was allowed before. But as developers looked for opportunities in the area, they encountered zoning obstacles, including wording that limited density beyond what the city had intended. That would be fixed by Flowers’ proposal, which would also strike the requirement for covered parking.

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Flower’s third item is a Dec. 3 vote on the conversion of a decrepit cannery building at 300 Cannery Row into apartments and retail space, which she says could pave the way for more housing in that area.

At the Oct. 22 hearing, Planning Commissioner Daniel Fletcher expressed the outlook on housing among city officials: “Do we hold onto planning principles from the past or do we make our way into the future?”

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Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers higher education, the military, the environment, public lands and the geographic areas of Seaside, Monterey, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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