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Planners reject sites for affordable housing

Coming up against vociferous opposition to the contruction of affordable housing in the city, the Huntington Beach Planning Commission on Tuesday gave in and decided to recommend to the council that it reject all eight sites that had been under consideration.

The 6 to 0 vote leaves city officials with the unenviable task of still trying to identify areas that could be rezoned for residential use to comply with state requirements for affordable housing.

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For nearly 2 1/2 hours, more than 50 Huntington Beach residents voiced their opposition, generally expressing concerns about the developments bringing in more traffic and crime.

The City Council is expected to decide during its March 7 meeting whether to abide by the Planning Commission's denial or approve some of the sites.

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Huntington Beach has until September to find sites in order to realign itself with state regulations, which mandate that the city identify 1,353 affordable units.

The city put itself in a 410-unit shortfall in May when the council approved an amendment to the Beach and Edinger Corridors Specific Plan, which was adopted in September 2013 to revitalize Beach and Edinger by streamlining the building approval process.

The changes were approved to slow and cap the number of housing developments along Beach when it appeared that the streamlining was speeding up development at an unacceptable pace.

In July, the nonprofit Kennedy Commission sued the city over the changes because of concerns about the number of affordable housing units in the city. A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled in November in favor of the nonprofit, but the matter is in limbo because the city is appealing the decision.

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Chairman Ed Pinchiff recused himself from Tuesday's vote because his home is near areas identified in the Beach and Edinger plan.

The council chambers were packed with residents who disagreed with the sites chosen by city planners for possible affordable housing.

The most contested site was a 0.98-acre plot at 17552 Goldenwest St. where an Armstrong Garden Centers sits. Residents vehemently opposed creating housing at the site, saying that an apartment complex there would be too close to Central Park and also expressing concerns about a potential increase in traffic and crime in the neighborhood.

"Armstrong Nursery is not the right place for high-density development," resident Gino Bruno said during public comments. "Not next to our Central Park, a place to walk in serenity.... It doesn't fit."

Marcia Kaufman, a resident and local real estate agent, said she would rather have city staff look at areas along Beach and Edinger than in neighborhoods outside the corridors.

"I suggest we put a little bit more energy into making that work rather than disrupting eight neighborhoods," she said.

Resident Peggy Price agreed that the site was wrong for housing. However, she said that it was unfair to assume that low-income housing would bring in criminals and drugs.

"A lot of low-income people who have ambition, dreams, desires, jobs and who want to keep getting better become higher-income people as they go," she said. "I bet there are a lot of us in this room that were low income at one time or another, and hopefully you won't be again."

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The other sites under consideration were three parcels at Stewart Lane and Clay Avenue, a 9.93-acre lot at Garfield Avenue and Gothard Street, a 1-acre site at 18922 Delaware St., a 0.95-acre site at 4831 Sandy Drive and a 0.87-acre site at 700 Williams Drive.

Many of the commissioners recognized that the city is in a difficult situation.

Commissioner Dan Kalmick said there is now a struggle between those who do not want housing developments in their neighborhood and those who do not want them along Beach.

Kalmick agreed with residents that the eight sites were not appropriate for affordable housing. He added that city staff needs to look through the specific plan again to identify potential housing along Beach.

Commissioner Mike Hoskinson said the city should challenge the state on its housing requirements.

Many residents agreed with Hoskinson, arguing that the city is already built-out.

City Atty. Michael Gates said Wednesday that his office is looking into ways to address the state's housing requirements.

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