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Chorro and Marsh

Allowing a seven-story building downtown in exchange for so-called 'affordable housing' is ridiculous

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Many architectural blunders can be disguised or covered up but not a building that is 75 feet tall.

Seven stories in downtown San Luis Obispo.

The city is poised to allow a developer to increase maximum height from 50 to 75 feet in exchange for the inclusion of "affordable/workforce" housing plus two choices from a menu that includes view decks and "economic vitality." Who among us wants to trade views of the surrounding mountains in exchange for a public access "view deck"? Who welcomes the pretense of "economic vitality" in exchange for traffic congestion and increased parking into adjacent neighborhoods? Have you noticed downtown is already affecting the neighborhoods that are adjacent to the adjacent ones?

Before letting them piggyback on the charm of our small town, look first at one component: affordable housing.

The City specifies "moderate" income affordability in its downtown zoning regulations. As defined, a developer in SLO can charge up to $1,214 per month for an "affordable" studio unit, and a single person can earn up to $69,900 to qualify for it. It's unlikely the market would even support this rental rate. When market rent substitutes for "affordable," it's anything but. And who would trade the skyline for anyone earning 20 percent above the median income for this county? Worse still, developers are possibly excused from paying the usual "in lieu" fees that could actually go toward an increased supply of genuinely affordable units for really needy people. And the developers are eligible for tax breaks in return for this nightmare.

This mockery of affordability was most likely lobbied for by the builders' trade associations statewide to fool the general public and city officials. We are being asked to sacrifice the heart of our downtown for this height bonus to a developer who is getting a break from fees and taxes.

Many years ago, I visited this town and never forgot its charm. It's not that I don't sympathize with renters, since I was one for much of my life. I've also worked with frustrated groups who have tried for years to save this city from urban renewal theories and developers' pressure. I also have painful flashbacks to how the city practically bankrupted me with their onerous planning process. My only allies were (first) Alex Madonna and (then) Mayor Dave Romero, who helped me get two vacant lots onto the market just before the last real estate bust.

For everyone's benefit, we need to stop this insanity quickly and decisively. Stop any current plans on tall buildings and have that height option removed from the zoning code. Put an end to discussions about extending this zoning to upper Monterey Street. And then look at affordability standards since what applies in this case is possibly a detriment to true affordability. Finally, we need to ensure that those who stand to gain from loose zoning regulations are not the ones to write them

Our downtown is beloved by residents and the envy of every visitor, but it could fall prey to the latest planners' fad and to Sacramento lobbyists. Contact every member of (and candidate for) City Council before Aug. 21, when the council will review the zoning regulations. Show up at the council meeting that night at 6 p.m. Let them know that you will vote only for those who will save our downtown. Δ

Jeanne Kinney wants to save San Luis Obispo's downtown from overdevelopment. Contact her through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a response for publication and email it to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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