The Cambrian

‘This is vitally needed’: Appeal of Cambria affordable housing project rejected

A nonprofit’s project to provide nearly three dozen affordable-housing apartments on Schoolhouse Lane in Cambria cleared another hurdle Tuesday, as county supervisors unanimously denied two appeals of the Planning Commission’s Jan. 10 approval of the project’s permit.

Long-planned by People’s Self-Help Housing, the reconfigured Cambria Pines Apartments development includes 33 units in eight buildings on 2.04 acres of a 5.88- acre parcel. The project would be built on a gently sloping Cambria meadow area, near the town’s middle school and the similar Self-Help Housing Schoolhouse Lane Apartment complex that’s been renting 24 affordable-housing apartments since 1997.

The county’s project staff report describes the area as being adjacent to one of the few remaining intact sections of Monterey pine forest on the western edge of East Lodge Hill. The few trees to be removed for the construction would be replaced at the county-required ratio.

There’s no doubt that the need is urgent for affordable housing in pricey Cambria, where tourism- and service-related industries rely on lower-wage employees. As former county supervisor Shirley Bianchi, a Cambria resident, said in her statements supporting the project, “these people are already living in Cambria (and are already using water there) … these are our neighbors … they need to have shelter.”

There’s reportedly a low-income-housing wait list of more than 100 people, some who’ve waited for years for a rare vacancy in the existing units or for the new apartments to be built and available to rent.

Cambria residents Mary Webb and Christine Heinrichs filed the appeals, citing such issues as insufficient water supply, environmental impacts (especially to the two creeks and aquifers that provide Cambria’s municipal water) and increased fire risk.

The two women said that, if those issues were solved, they’d certainly support having more Cambria housing for low-income families. When the Cambria Community Services District approved in 2001 the moratorium on issuing new water connections, which is still in place, it set aside a certain amount of water for affordable housing.

Among other issues mentioned by another three speakers who asked that supervisors approve the appeals were potential traffic and evacuation problems, and perceived insufficiencies in the CCSD’s program used to allocate water to the project.

However, the supervisors sided quickly with the project and comments made by seven people who spoke in favor of it, which already has the “intent to serve” letter that would allow construction to proceed, once the project’s permit is finalized. There is another potential step in that process, should the appellants or anybody else decide to appeal the supervisors’ decision to the California Coastal Commission.

Once the commission receives formal notice of the supervisors’ vote, the appeal period would be open for two weeks.

Before Supervisor Bruce Gibson made the motion to deny the appeals and uphold the planning commission’s approval, he emphasized the “human side of this … there’s no doubt this is vitally needed in Cambria,” where many people live in difficult conditions, such as having several families in one house or motel unit or no housing at all.

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