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Opinion

Commentary: The missing middle density of Huntington Beach

Ellis Avenue condo rendering
A rendering shows a proposed project that would add a four-story building with 48 residential units and a coffee shop to the corner of Beach Boulevard and Ellis Avenue in Huntington Beach.
(Courtesy of Tahir Salim )

I support the addition of new housing units in the city of Huntington Beach. Lack of housing is a city, regional and state problem and, until we are building a significant number of new units, it will continue to be an issue potentially threatening the future of our community.

Sadly, the only time new housing is discussed in Huntington Beach, or most Orange County cities, is when a sizable multi-family project, such as the one currently under appeal to our City Council, is being considered. Unfortunately, most “discussions” about multi-family housing quickly devolve into hyperbolic claims of “towering high-rises” and all the worst urban stereotypes. These kinds of statements are neither accurate nor constructive and serve as little more than tropes to manufacture outrage among the uninformed.

So where does that leave us regarding housing?

If the residents of Huntington Beach are completely not persuadable regarding projects like the one currently proposed for 8041 Ellis Ave., how does our city go about adding much-needed housing? How do we avoid future lawsuits and legal battles with the state and independent housing advocacy groups? And how do we add the housing needed to ensure a vibrant future for our community?

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Well, believe it or not, there are straightforward ways to accomplish this that don’t include larger, higher-density projects. If Huntington Beach was committed to adding housing — but without projects like the one currently being considered — it could be done using our current zoning codes and land-use controls. The city would simply need to reevaluate and streamline its process, oversight and enforcement of existing zoning ordinances with a focus on incentivizing property owners to expand.

The current land use in Huntington Beach is dominated by low-density residential zoning. While this typically means one single-family residence per property in H.B., our current codes allow for development well beyond this ratio. Unfortunately, current city reviews, guidelines and restrictions make it so difficult for an individual property owner to expand or convert a single-family residence to a duplex or triplex that it simply isn’t worth the expense, hassle and uncertainty. As a result, nothing gets done.

There are ways to add new housing units in Huntington Beach that don’t involve large individual multi-family projects. But without appropriate leadership from our City Council, the residents of Huntington Beach will be forced to continue discussing new housing in a needlessly adversarial and binary way: large multi-family projects or nothing.

There are better solutions that provide free-market incentives and more organic development, and that are more empowering to Huntington Beach residents. The problem, however, lies with our current City Council members, who have taken an adversarial approach to adding housing units to our community. Sadly, their attitude serves no one.

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Let’s be clear: If the city of Huntington Beach isn’t looking for new housing solutions, we aren’t likely to find any answers to our current housing issue — and the price of our continued failure will be considerable.

Steve Shepherd is a Huntington Beach resident.

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