Requests for lower design standards, fewer amenities for affordable housing project granted by Elk Grove City Council

The Elk Grove City Council approved the removal of the patios and balconies, and other amenities from the Poppy Grove apartment complex on ...

The Elk Grove City Council approved the removal of the patios and balconies, and other amenities from the Poppy Grove apartment complex on Bruceville and Poppy Ridge roads. | 

The five-member Elk Grove City Council approved a request to lower already agreed design standards and amenities for an affordable apartment complex. The unanimous approval was given to the developer of the Quail Ridge during the Wednesday, April 12, city council meeting.

The apartment project located on Bruceville and Poppy Ridge roads was approved in May 2022, but the developers sought lower standards to reduce construction costs. Appearing before the city council, developer proponent Michael Johnson said since last year's approval and the start of construction earlier this year, costs, some of which were weather-related, have increased. 

Among the items taken from the original plan were balconies, patios, and recreational facilities like a swimming pool and sports courts. Johnson told the city council that eliminating those elements would save between $2 and $2.2 million.

"We're asking you to adopt a resolution tonight that will allow for the issuance of the final building permit, and with that is the approval of the design that has been refined," Johnson told the city council. 

In discussing eliminating the patios and porches, Johnson said patios often become unsightly nuisances. Additionally, they add to maintenance costs.

Later in the meeting, District 4 Councilmember Sergio Robles asked city staff if they had received any code enforcement complaints about unsightly balconies. Development services director Darren Wilson said that he was unaware of any complaints.  

After hearing staff and developer presentions on the cuts, city attorney Jonathan Hobbs said affordable housing developments meeting density requirements under California state law could use up to four variances. The project already used variances for parking and was eligible for three more.

Hobbs also noted that the variances must reduce a project's cost. However, Hobbs made no mention if the variances could be granted after a project's approval. 

During their deliberations, all five city council members engaged in hand-wringing over eliminating patios and porches. While Republican Vice Mayor Kevin Spease blamed California Democratic lawmakers for stripping local control, Councilmember Darren Suen appealed to the developers to work with the city on refining the project's design standards.

"I'm begging you, please, work with us going forward," Suen said.

During her remarks, Mayor Bobbie Sigh-Allen suggested that both parties work to "enhance and beautify the project." City staff then presented a premade amendment for the resolution for both parties to work together to enhance the project.

The amendment says the applicant "shall give good faith consideration to the following additional considerations." Included are items like landscaping, patios, porches, and minor design elements.

While the amendment was added, it is non-binding, and the developer is under no legal obligation to oblige the city. 

"These are conversation pieces, we know that," Singh-Allen said. "This is an understanding that we are going to continue to having conversations."  

Attorney Hobbs added, "What this condition does, it does not bind them to do much of anything. What you have is their good faith commitment that they work with the city and the city staff to see if there are additional design components that would improve this project." 

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D.J. Blutarsky said...

Whether the well-heeled developers with their rolled up blueprints arrive from Newport Beach, Irvine, San Francisco, or Santa Clara, they all know how to play these valley hick towns like a fiddle! Besides being able to buy votes on the cheap, the smart money also knows that building affordable housing is the new 'easy-money' play.

We are now living in the new Golden Age of real estate investment. The huge stucco monster homes are on their way out and now high-density multiple family affordable housing is in. With tax-exempt bond financing available as tax shelters for big investors; new lobbyist-driven state laws that provide density bonuses and a whole slew of exemptions from costly site development standards; and long waiting lines of low and moderate income residents seeking affordable housing, it is no wonder the local yokel city council's have that deer in the headlights look!

Now take a city like Elk Grove, which has some of the weakest development standards to begin with, and now they are required to give additional concessions...well, what you are left with is pretty stark, to be polite. Embarrassing is more like it and a zoo won't fix our reputation as the bottom-feeder of the Sacramento region.

Believe me, the developers know an easy mark when they see one and a City Councilman publicly "begging them to work with us" is a sad night in the history of Elk Grove!

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