ST. GEORGE — Following statewide legislation, the Santa Clara City Council voted to update the city’s general plan and approve Ordinance 2019-15 in a meeting Wednesday.
Utah code already requires every city to have a section regarding affordable housing. However, earlier this year, the 2019 state Legislature voted to adopt Senate Bill 34, which introduced new requirements for all municipalities with a population of 5,000 people or more to update the moderate income housing element — previously known as affordable housing — of their general plans.
The bill was drafted by northern Utah representatives who have witnessed the seemingly uncontrollable increase in housing prices after a boom in the software industry left the average employee unable to find affordable housing in Silicon Slopes, an area made up of Provo, Park City and Cache Valley.
The mandate requires cities to select at least three strategies — or four if the city has a public transit system — to further promote the development of moderate income housing before the end of 2019. And legislators included a list of 23 potential strategies for cities to choose from. Beginning in 2020, cities will also be required to provide the state with annual reports that illustrate progress toward implementing the chosen strategies.
The Santa Clara City Planning Commission began the process of choosing its strategies in August and held a public hearing and presentation on the selected strategies in November. City planner Bob Nicholson presented the committee’s recommendations to the City Council, which included four strategies to facilitate moderate income housing in 2020, including rezoning, reducing regulations, allowing higher densities and offering incentives.
The first of the four strategies entails land use and rezoning for densities that are necessary to assure the production of moderate-income housing. This, Nicholson said, can include rezoning more residential areas to higher densities or allowing for more attached residential units, like townhomes.
The council also included an allowance for reduced regulations for accessory dwelling units in residential zones. According to SB34, an accessory dwelling unit is a habitable living unit added to, created within or detached from a primary single-family dwelling and contained on one lot, such as a mother-in-law suite.
Nicholson said existing regulations on accessory dwelling units in Santa Clara has made it difficult for people to pursue these units despite allowing housing additions. The city, however, has not allowed for detached dwellings on an existing property in the past, which he said is likely to change.
The third strategy to facilitate additional moderate income housing includes allowing for higher densities in mixed-use zones, commercial centers and employment centers. Unlike St. George, Santa Clara has not seen an abundance of mixed-use properties, Nicholson said.
In the past, the city has maintained a hard limit of 12 units per acre for mixed-use residential projects. In order to promote more affordable residential projects and provide more flexibility, the council has decided to allow the Planning Commission and City Council to determine the density on a case-by-case basis instead of providing a hard limit.
Santa Clara will also be implementing zoning incentives for low-to-moderate income units in new developments. Although the council is expecting to identify these potential incentives in the future, these could include granting developers a density bonus. These incentives are meant to “adequately entice developers” to create more moderate income housing.
Nicholson told St. George News there is a growing need for moderate income housing, especially in Washington County. Land prices are continuing to rise, and cities have very little say in the process as the state attempts to balance supply and demand, and each city has its own unique challenges.
“For a lot of cities it’s providing what we call the workforce housing, just for school teachers, nurses and healthcare people, public safety, people who work in restaurants, and the typical job in the area,” he said. “It’s getting difficult to be able to provide that.”
With these concerns, the city has been working to lessen the impact of increased housing costs by making a number of changes starting in 2016.
Four years ago, the city amended its zoning code to increase the maximum allowed density from eight dwelling units per acre to a potential maximum of 12 dwelling units per acre in certain zones, reducing the overall cost of housing. The city also allowed short term residential rentals to accommodate the need for short term housing for tourists, sports teams and others seeking housing for short term periods.
More recently, the city approved three large housing projects to include an above-average density with a total of 260 new housing units. The council also asserts it is constantly looking for ways to streamline the city zoning regulations and reduce the project review time period while encouraging housing developers to pursue state and federal affordable housing assistance programs.
For the city of Santa Clara, however, officials have identified that the most effective way to reduce the cost of housing is to provide residents with higher density developments with more choices.
The ordinance and subsequent update to the Santa Clara City general plan went into effect Dec. 11. The council will meet for the first time in 2020 during a work meeting scheduled for Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. with a regularly scheduled City Council meeting expected to follow on Jan. 8.
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