Editorials

Housing density must be a priority

Mini-storage units will no longer be allowed to be built on land zoned for multifamily housing in the county’s unincorporated areas, the Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday.

Good decision. Given the serious shortage of low-cost housing in San Luis Obispo County, the board needs to send a clear message that multifamily land should be reserved for high-density housing, including apartments, condos and duplexes.

We’re also impressed that the board rejected, by a vote of 4-1, a proposal to still allow mini-storage units on multifamily land on a case-by-case basis.

Debbie Arnold was the only supervisor who supported that idea; she believed that mini-storage units would be an asset to residents of multifamily housing; could serve as a buffer between housing complexes and agricultural or industrial land; and might be the only development option available to property owners in the event of, say, a water shortage.

Supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson countered that property owners could still request a zoning change in such cases.

Also, storage units still are allowed in plenty of other zones within the county.

“There’s not a self-storage crisis in the state of California,” Hill said.

Exactly.

There is, however, a growing shortage of affordably priced units, especially in coastal counties such as San Luis Obispo. It’s extremely shortsighted to squander vacant land earmarked for future multifamily projects.

For that reason, we’re also concerned about allowing single-family homes in areas zoned for multifamily housing, which has been an issue in the past.

While it may be appropriate to allow some small-lot, single-family residences in some multifamily zones, the county should not go overboard in that direction.

As it is, the county’s supply of land that’s appropriate for high-density, multifamily housing is limited. According to the county’s 2014 Housing Element update — astate-required plan that addresses how to meet housing needs — there are only 14 such sites in the county, accommodating a potential 371 units. Most of those sites are in San Miguel, with a few in Los Osos and Nipomo and one in Avila Beach.

An additional 15 multifamily parcels are categorized as “underutilized” and could accommodate an additional 310 units, for a total of 681 units.

The Housing Element anticipates the need for 407 additional very low and low-cost units between now and 2019, so at least on paper, there is sufficient land set aside to meet that need.

In reality, though, there has been a huge gap between supply and demand when it comes to low-cost housing.

From 2009 to 2013 — the period covered by the last Housing Element — there was an estimated need for 514 low-cost units. There were 171 actually built — a shortfall of 343 units.

While the recession no doubt played a role in that, there was no comparable slowdown in construction of more expensive units.

Unfortunately, once a mini-storage facility or a subdivision of single-family homes is built on multifamily land, that property is tied up for the foreseeable future. Given the resistance many communities have to high-density residential zoning, it’s not easy to rezone land to replace it.

The county should carefully guard the inventory of multifamily property in the unincorporated areas; banning storage units is a no-brainer.

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