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Plan Affecting Future Parks Due More Study : County EMA Is Told to Revise Proposal for Rewarding Builders of Affordable Housing

Times Staff Writer

Amid complaints that no one knew its potential impact, the Orange County Planning Commission Tuesday demanded further study of a proposal to free some developers of their obligation to provide the county with local parkland.

The commission ordered the Environmental Management Agency to present at a July 9 meeting a revised plan that would benefit developers who built more housing for low- and moderate-income residents than was required under a mandatory affordable-housing program, which the county now is phasing out.

Last June the Board of Supervisors decided to allow developers with excess “credits” from the affordable housing program to exchange them for reductions in their requirements to set aside 2.5 acres of land for local parks for every 1,000 residents in a new development.

Alternate Plans Rejected

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The EMA drafted two alternate plans to make the board decision law, but the Planning Commission rejected both Tuesday and asked for more study.

Commissioner C. Douglas Leavenworth said he did not believe parkland should be linked to affordable housing.

“What have excess affordable housing credits to do with parkland?” Leavenworth asked. “They don’t have anything to do with it.” Even when a new plan is presented, Leavenworth said, if it contains provisions to swap parkland requirements for affordable housing credits, it “is not going to get my vote, in principle.”

But Philip Bettencourt, a vice president of Gfeller Development Co. of Tustin, said developers who earned the credits had provided “some 7,000 desperately needed affordable housing units.”

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The mandatory affordable housing program, instituted in 1979, required developers to provide 25% of the new units they built for low- or moderate-income tenants or buyers. Units in excess of 25% earned credits that could be sold to other developers or used to reduce the 25% requirement in future building.

Developers Complain

In 1983 the board voted to phase out the mandatory program over a three-year period.

Developers complained that they would be stuck with excess credits they earned for complying with county policy and suggested that a reduction in parkland requirements would help them “spend” the excess credits.

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Planning Commissioner Thomas Moody complained Tuesday that the EMA proposals did not indicate what impact the program would have on specific areas in the county. Moody also requested more information from developers on whether they would take advantage of the reduction in the parkland requirement and, if so, to what extent.


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