Building heights in San Luis Obispo’s upper Monterey Street section are set to go up to 75 feet, but only if affordable or workforce housing with local worker preference is part of the project, according to San Luis Obispo City Council guidance on adopting a new policy.
Hearing from community members arguing both sides of height increases on Tuesday, City Council members said they’re OK with building heights that could reach 75 feet on an upper Monterey Street corridor along the 1100 through 1300 block.
But developers would have to enter into a development agreement to include affordable or workforce housing with first dibs to locals as part of the conditions of the project, along with meeting other development criteria.
The recommended change, which will be drafted by the Planning Commission, would increase the maximum height limit of 45 feet under current zoning limits in the upper Monterey area.
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The new height allowance would fold the area into the downtown commercial zone. The area under consideration includes properties on seven city blocks; existing businesses include iFixit, Taqueria Santa Cruz Express and Smith Volvo.
Buildings can be 50 feet tall in the downtown commercial zone, but the Planning Commission may allow a maximum building height of up to 75 feet if the project meets at least two policy objectives — such as affordable and workforce housing, pedestrian amenities, historic preservation or energy efficiency.
Council member Carlyn Christianson said that city regulations around tall buildings are strict and likely won’t result in a proliferation of them in the city. Opponents of the allowance say those buildings would block views and ruin the city’s character.
“Two of the taller buildings in town are the Anderson Hotel and AT&T buildings and nobody talks about them being a blight,” Christianson told The Tribune. “The rules we have now with tall buildings have very strict restrictions and requirements.”
The change to allow the taller buildings is expected to come by the end of the year after Planning Commission review.
Councilman Aaron Gomez said the city is working toward policies that promote sustainable living practices, and said having more people live in the city where they work would reduce carbon emissions from commutes.
“As a planet, we can’t live in the same way we have been,” Gomez said. “It’s just not sustainable.”
Mayoral candidate T. Keith Gurnee, however, said that he believes the city’s Land Use Element, adopted in 2014, didn’t anticipate the strength of the Housing Accountability Act in permitting new development that meets the city’s General Plan polices.
Gurnee, a critic on the city’s recent pace of growth, said more careful analysis of the upper Monterey area is needed before any new building height allowances.
“We have approved over 2,000 housing units in the pipeline for construction,” Gurnee said. “We can wait to get this right.”
The delay on the building heights came along with a general approval of most of the city’s proposed zoning changes formulated over the past 18 months.
Approvals in the updated document include:
▪ Establishing the role of the Architectural Review Commission (ARC) to be advisory to the Planning Commission
▪ Lowering the maximum height for buildings in the low-density residential (R-1) zone from 35 to 25 feet
▪ Further implementing the city’s Climate Action Plan by requiring installation of electric vehicle capable parking spaces with new developments or significant remodels
▪ Implementing new hillside development standards that assist in maintaining a natural appearance for hillsides and ridge lines
▪ Consideration of implementing child care facilities as part of affordable housing developments in line with a new state law.
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