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Thread: Do you talk about the "real" issue or just stick to the land use discussion?

  1. #1
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Do you talk about the "real" issue or just stick to the land use discussion?

    Here's a nice "theoretical" for us to consider:

    Let's say a reputable multi-family developer is proposing a new multi-family redevelopment in the older part of you City. It is consistent with intent of the proposed zoning district and the surrounding land uses. It will remove some very low end commercial in an outdated shopping center and a unusable fraternal society building. It will be townhouses with a high level of design and finish material. It will be an $11.5 million dollar investment.

    But....

    It will also be 100% affordable housing (but not subsidized) targeting households making 60-30% of the area median income. And the City doesn't have anything in the zoning code, Comprehensive Plan or any official policies regarding affordable housing.

    So, do you (aka have to) discuss the intended "customers" in the land use discussion along with the site plan, landscaping, building design, etc? Or can you just leave it out of the discussion and let it come out naturally and address it through the political portion of the process?

    What have you done, cyburbia? And you can talk about other types of development where the "real" issue is not land use related.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    It's been my (limited) experience that there's no good way to work this situation - it will explode regardless because NIMBYs will come out of the woodwork. Since it's inevitable, and especially if the politicians will still ultimately be making the final decision, I would address it in its entirety from the outset, though I would try to direct discussion more towards the land use and design issues and highlight the areas it does meet plans and codes. At least that way the community will be less likely to direct its NIMBY anger at staff, or at least won't instill/cement more suspicion and distrust.

    Just my 2˘.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian MazerRackham's avatar
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    That's an interesting purely hypothetical situation. Here's my take...

    Given the facts you stated, if I was the developer I wouldn't even utter the words affordable housing. I would simply submit my multi-family zoning request.

    Although, absent an altruistic motive, I don't understand how a developer could make the numbers work with absolutely no public/non-profit subsidy or financing.

    I do agree with TexanOkie...as staff, once I knew anything about an affordable housing component, it would be disclosed. It will eventually become public and I'd rather face the critics up front than deal with cover up allegations after the fact.
    "The devil bought the key to Branson. Drives a backhoe and wears a gold chain." --- Jay Farrar from the song "Barstow"

  4. #4
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    We had a tax credit project for senior housing that exploded here...our Council is notoriously known for thinking we are so upper crust here that anything that might be for those 'poor' people doesn't belong in our community. Sad I know.

    Anyways, I would not talk about it being for affordable housing, because that is not a land use or zoning issue, at best its a compatibility issue with the neighbors. According to federal law, aka, the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate based on your race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, or disability.

    Your municipality faces the potential for a lawsuit if they do so...I'd consult your legal department.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  5. #5
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Huh?

    Developer Hat ON:
    Why would a developer try to sell a "affordable" development in this economic climate?? Why wouldn't they try to sell the development as an upgrade to the older neighborhood, including new infrastructure and maybe at the most point out prices are expected to be "reasonable." If the housing isn't "subsidized" why do they even feel the need to disclose the income levels for expected buyers to the public, let alone the planners???

    How high level of design and finish material can there be for units expected to accommodate buyers in the 60-30% of median income??? If there is "very low end" commercial in this neighborhood, that implies the neighborhood may not be one of those "older" rich places, but older depressed areas.

    All I can say is that I think mistakes were made by the developer representing this development to the public.
    Developer Hat Off
    Skilled Adoxographer

  6. #6
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by The One View post
    Developer Hat ON:
    Why would a developer try to sell a "affordable" development in this economic climate?? Why wouldn't they try to sell the development as an upgrade to the older neighborhood, including new infrastructure and maybe at the most point out prices are expected to be "reasonable." If the housing isn't "subsidized" why do they even feel the need to disclose the income levels for expected buyers to the public, let alone the planners???

    How high level of design and finish material can there be for units expected to accommodate buyers in the 60-30% of median income??? If there is "very low end" commercial in this neighborhood, that implies the neighborhood may not be one of those "older" rich places, but older depressed areas.

    All I can say is that I think mistakes were made by the developer representing this development to the public.
    Developer Hat Off
    I agree... the developer made a mistake in how he presented the proposal if he wanted an easy approval. Or, he could have been setting himself up in case it was turned down so he could sue on the grounds that the decision was made in violation of fair housing laws, using the NIMBY response and subsequent Council action to deny as evidence of discriminatory zoning practices (there are ways to argue back if it really becomes a legal battle). I'd wait and see what happens with Council discussion, but it would be wise to alert the city attorney to the potential issue.

    I'm assuming the staff recommendation would be to approve, absent any additional information about the specific site that might cause concern. For the purposes of the staff report, I'd probably avoid discussion of the "real issue" in this case and stick exclusively to the LU/zoning issue. If the Council's discussion turns toward affordable housing, then you and the city attorney need to be prepared to discuss fair housing laws and implications of zoning decisions based on the presence/absence of protected classes (even if those classes aren't specifically mentioned, there is a fair amount of case law regarding the relationship between housing affordability and discriminatory practices). This may or may not be a major issue in your city.

    Assuming you get CDBG or similar funds managed by HUD, you probably have an Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing laying around your office somewhere. You would be well-served to read up on it just to see what it might reveal. HUD is working on new guidance for Analyses of Impediments, but I know Westchester County has been through the wringer with a recent fair housing lawsuit and the State of Texas is conducting a revised Analysis of Impediments now in response to a Conciliation Agreement to resolve a fair housing complaint. If your city's Analysis of Impediments is more than a few years old, it probably needs revisions. I've been told the Naperville, Illinois Analysis of Impediments is one of the most complete out there.

    I don't know how things work in your part of the world for financing a 100% affordable rent product, but my assumption is that it is funded largely through low-income housing tax credits or something similar.

    A former colleague had an affordable housing issue in a zoning case catch NIMBY fire in a development proposal. He was at a loss for what to do, but got lucky that the case coincided with fair housing month (April). The Council typically passed a resolution declaring fair housing month every year. He decided to tweak the normal declaration process to include a short presentation on fair housing and housing discrimination. As a result, the meeting began with what amounted to a cursory training on fair housing followed by the zoning change further down the agenda. The zoning change was approved over neighbor objections.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  7. #7
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    So, do you (aka have to) discuss the intended "customers" in the land use discussion along with the site plan, landscaping, building design, etc?
    No, I don't, and no I don't have to.

    Though I do agree with others, that if I had this information I would present it to the Planning Commission in my staff report with the reminder that if the project meets the zoning and doesn't require any special approvals, the "intended customers" are irrelevent regardless if they are low-mod income, or high income.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SW MI Planner View post
    No, I don't, and no I don't have to.

    Though I do agree with others, that if I had this information I would present it to the Planning Commission in my staff report with the reminder that if the project meets the zoning and doesn't require any special approvals, the "intended customers" are irrelevent regardless if they are low-mod income, or high income.
    I agree. I don't care how much rents are or who rents. We can't be in the business of regulating land use and regulating income classes. If it comes up at hearing, I make mention that these are affordable units and subject to Federal Fair Housing laws and that the Zoning ordinance makes no distinction, nor does it permit, any decision making on the basis of future occupants.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I would say, as a planner, that this is not your domain. These issues relate to how the developer sells the project to various parties (City Council, Zoning, area residents, etc.)

    I am not a City worker but I have had some experience with affordable housing from the perspective of the developer. I agree its a very trickey scenario. In the cases I have been involved in (all in the same part of town), billing something as affordable housing to all parties concerned has been an asset. Its a low income part of town with many long term (up to 5 generations for many) residents and a key concern lately has been displacement of people because of rising property taxes. So, to say something is affordable here immediately puts you in a positive light because its intending to serve existing residents as opposed to the perception of something that would bring poor people to the neighborhood (and presumably cause all kinds of havoc - kicking over dust bins and the like, I guess).

    But again, unless the project ties in to and/or addresses a specified need for affordable housing in some City plan (and you said it does not), I would leave the pitch up to the developer and just speak to the land use and zoning issues.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Tobinn's avatar
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    1. I think we call it "Work Force" housing now. Thank God for political correctness. Imagine, nurses, teachers, cops and firefighter and, dare I say it, even urban planners being able to afford a decent place to live. Say it ain't so.
    2. I would just call it "housing" but that's just me.
    3. If I were reviewing this plan my attitude would be "Just the facts, ma'am." Who they do or don't rent to, what the target audience is or any of that (unless it was an integral part of the application ie. they get a density bonus for providing "affordable work force yada yada yada housing) is none of my business (or anyone else's for that matter).
    4. On the other hand, try it from the other direction, tell'em you can't approve any housing development unless the targeted audience makes at least 200% of the median income for the area and you'll need tax returns for each interested potential buyer.
    At times like this, you have to ask yourself, "WWJDD?"
    (What Would Jimmy Durante Do?)

  11. #11
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    It's pretty simple. If the developer brings it up in their application, of course you address it. If they don't, you don't. I don't understand the issue??? Sometimes we planners confuse the hell out of me.
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

  12. #12
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by btrage View post
    It's pretty simple. If the developer brings it up in their application, of course you address it. If they don't, you don't. I don't understand the issue??? Sometimes we planners confuse the hell out of me.
    Dude, this thread is mainly for theoretical discussion about these types of projects (whether it's affordable housing, a junkyard, a "bookstore", etc.), Relax.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    I assume the project is receiving some sort of public subsidy and/or is being developed by a non-profit organization. Around here the affordable component is generally a positive. Any issues relating to the "behavior" of the occupants would generally be seen as out-of-line unless they would also apply to any large market-rate project. While there are some NIMBY's we fortunately don't have many on the Planning Board or the leadership of the municipality.

    A bigger issue here would be the conversion of commercial property to housing in general.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    In this case (and all cases) you should address the ordinance standards. If the standards are met, you should say so, and if they aren't you should say why not. If there isn't an applicable affordability standard then there is no reason for you to mention it (but I would mention the issue to my CM before the hearing, covering my butt internally). If the developer wants to bring it up in his or her presentation, that is fine. If then you are asked why you didn't mention it, you say it does not relate to any applicable ordinance standard. The neighbors will be all over the issue anyway and your job is to repeat the mantra of no ordinance standard.

    I've had exactly the issue you describe, and it went through to approval with some political difficulty, but with a firm statement from me and from the city attorney that the political aspects were irrelevant to the land use decision. It was an allowed use, and met all our standards. Approved. Of course, our PC is used to applying the law in the face of political pressure not to. They are well trained on the law and are experienced.

    There were some typical NIMBY moments, including one from a person who had just moved into a brand new SFR development across the street, arguing how the site should stay open space and she moved here because it was open (not thinking that a year earlier her site had been open space, too). Another person argued, with no sense of irony, that since the site had great views it should not be available for affordable housing and after all he had paid $200K for his adjacent view lot.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian CDT's avatar
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    so my general approach to planning is first to forward all good planning theories and concepts in anyway legal and ethical. I am a zealous advocate for good planning. Therefore, when I meet with applicants I talk about the white elephant in the corner of the room and give them approaches to dealing and combating it, even when I know it may mean they have to use political methods to do so. I do not personally/professionally get involved in any of that politicking but I do give them my intuitive professional advice on how to get their project approved. Then I meet with administration and continue to zealously advocate for the good planning principles, even when they tell me they don't like the project. There have been some limited instances where administration and the board has asked me to oppose something they do not like. I will not do this. I will on very rare occasions like these take a neutral stance but put all of the information out there for consideration, which most of the time makes the elected officials jobs more difficult because often the data is stacked in the favor of good planning.

    To answer the specific question...it depends. If the applicant puts the information in their packet then I include it in the staff comments and address it objectively with data and then talk about the theoretical planning value, etc. If the applicant does NOT include the information in their packet then I do NOT include it in staff comments. Our code does not address affordable housing at all so any questions directed to the topic I would likely answer by stating the code does not consider such information.

    That would be my approach.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    [Slightly off-topic yet slightly on-topic]

    In east Dallas, there's a neighborhood association acting as a "YIMBY", welcoming the homeless being placed in apartments in its neighborhood through a City program that's brought angry protests in other parts of town.

    There was a good story about it in the Dallas Morning News last Wednesday.

    Story: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcont...en.6e1df9.html

    Has anyone witnessed anything similar to this in their professional lives?

    [/Slightly off-topic yet slightly on-topic]

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Staying slightly off-topic: We just had a church that bought a bunch of tents, and set them up in its members' back yards (one tent per member). Then they moved homeless people into them. I'm not sure how this amounts to an improvement in circumstances for the homeless, since they're still in tents. Just not in the woods anymore.

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