May 2020 Planning Commission Recap: Affordable Project Seeks SB 35 Approval, Center for the Arts Update
The Planning Commission held two Study Sessions at their May 28th meeting, reviewing an update to the planned affordable apartment project at 3600 San Pablo Avenue (site of ECAP) as well as an update to the long-awaited Emeryville Center for the Arts.
San Pablo Affordable Apartments (Study Session)
Developers of the “San Pablo Affordable Apartments” project, Resources for Community Development (RCD), have proposed a 90-unit affordable apartment complex with a mixture of studios, one, two, and three bedrooms apartments.
The ground floor will house a 3,600-square-foot retail space would provide a permanent and modernized facility for ECAP (Emeryville Citizens Assistance Program), as well as a parking garage that would accommodate 42 vehicles with a mechanical parking lift. The project is an update to a project that was originally proposed back in 2017 that had three floors and 39 units. The property had since went into foreclosure, and the Bankruptcy Court selected RCD as the approved buyer of the site.
The project was described as a northern “gateway” to Emeryville, taking over three lots currently occupied by ECAP, the vacant Doug’s BBQ and Golden Gate Key & Lock Co.. San Pablo Affordable Apartments would also add to RCD’s portfolio of affordable Emeryville housing properties, including the nearby Ambassador (69 units), Bay Bridge Apartments (6 units for special needs individuals) and Triangle Court (20 family units on 45th St.).
RCD has applied for planning approval under California Senate Bill 35, a law enacted in 2017 to help address the state’s affordable housing shortage. In cities that have not met their regional housing goals, such as Emeryville, SB 35 allows for developers to submit qualified housing projects that will be subject to a “streamlined ministerial” approval process instead of a standard Planning Commission and City Council review.
The streamlined process only allows for “objective development standards” to be used in project consideration – no personal judgement allowed. Which means that any process that introduces personal judgement, like discretionary design review – a regular part of the Planning Commission’s review process – is prohibited. Only a “yes” or “no” finding on whether the project meets development standards is allowed.
If approved, it would the first housing project in Emeryville approved under this law. Neighboring Berkeley approved two affordable housing projects last year under the same law.
For proposed projects with 150 or fewer units, the law also establishes that the City must inform RCD of any conflicts with objective development standards within 60 days of plan submittal.
Although RCD qualified to use this process, a previous loan agreement from City Council requires that that they hold at least one community meeting and at least two study sessions with the Planning Commission to present the Development Concept and design as well as participate in at least one study session with the City Council if requested. “[The] Developer shall make a good faith effort to address community concerns and comments,” is noted in the staff report from the City.
Funding for the project has not been established RCD Real Estate Development Manager Sara Erickson cautioned at a recent community meeting. The project would likely require funding from at least three separate programs including Federal and State. Erickson noted that they also intend to pursue some funding from Emeryville’s Measure C $50M Housing Bond passed in 2018.
The first hurdle for the project is getting entitlements which is a generally a precursor for most grant approvals Erickson explained. “All the funding programs are really wanting to fund those projects that are ready to go.”
“These programs are all competitive and it’s not guaranteed that when we apply for funding that we will get it. It’s based on scoring and usually how much funding you already have committed and how ready you are to break ground.”
With the shortened review timeline, RCD hopes to receive these entitlements by October. The project has early construction cost estimates of $60 million. Construction would begin at the earliest in the Summer of 2022.
Emeryville Center for the Arts (Study Session)
The Commission also held a second study session for the Emeryville Center for the Arts project, which proposes to transform of a 30,000-square-foot warehouse adjacent to the old City Hall into an arts and cultural center. Orton Development was awarded the project by the city in a competitive bidding process back in 2018.
Orton made multiple changes to the project since the previous study session in February. This includes a reconfiguration of the parking lot, an increase in the total size and the number of studio spaces, a reduction in storage space, the addition of gender-neutral bathrooms, and a few other minor changes.
The next Planning Commission meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 25, 2020, at 6:30pm.