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Saratoga council approves Housing Element plan, SB9 ordinance

After months of community feedback and public meetings, Saratoga City Council voted to submit its housing plan to the state for approval, well ahead of the Dec. 31 deadline.

The Housing Element outlines Saratoga’s housing development growth and requires more than 1,700 new housing units be built between 2023 and 2031. City staff will send the plan to the state for feedback before its final adoption later this year, when there will be another opportunity for public comment.

“This Housing Element…is something none of us like, none of us support this because we know it is going to fundamentally change the character of Saratoga,” Mayor Tina Walia said at Wednesday’s city council meeting. “It is state law. We had to make this happen; we had no choice but to do that.”

The Housing Element serves as the city’s blueprint for future housing development, which is required by the state every eight years. Council voted to finalize eight potential housing development sites and policies in February, including Allendale/Chester, Fellowship Plaza, Gateway, Prospect/Lawrence, Quito/Pollard, Queen’s Pumpkin Patch on Saratoga Avenue, Village East and Wardell.

During community meetings over the past few months, there was significant pushback over the number of units allocated to the Gateway and Prospect/Lawrence sites, and concerns that the lion’s share of new development is concentrated toward the north end of the city.

The sites outline 1,919 potential housing units in Saratoga, including 713 units that are already in the pipeline or would be built on vacant sites or as accessory dwelling units. Of the proposed units, 454 are slated to be very low income, 261 low income, 278 moderate income and 719 above moderate.

The Prospect/Lawrence site is slated to have 410 units with a maximum number of 10 floors, and the Saratoga Avenue site is slated for 344 units.

The number of units planned for the other sites are 80 at Fellowship Plaza, 241 at Gateway, 87 at Village East, 10 at Wardell, 24 at Allendale and Chester and 10 at Quito and Pollard.

A handful of residents spoke up at Wednesday’s city council meeting about traffic congestion concerns and fear of losing Saratoga’s character with the influx of new housing.

Councilmember Rishi Kumar voted against the draft Housing Element, saying. “We have seemingly followed a flawed Housing Element plan that has divided up our city, has pitted neighbors against neighbors, and we truly sort of tried to demonstrate vision, but there was no vision or plan,

“We completely discarded elements of urban planning.”

Councilmember Mary-Lynne Bernald said the process has been difficult for all the councilmembers

“Where this document may not meet everyone’s standards at this point…. I have to say how extraordinarily I am impressed with this document,” Bernald said.

City council also approved a local ordinance outlining regulations for Senate Bill 9 at its meeting Wednesday evening that set standards for developers who request urban lot splits or two-unit developments on a single-family residential lot.

Council passed an SB9 emergency ordinance at its Dec 15 meeting before the law officially went into effect on Jan. 1, 2022. Council voted Wednesday to update occupancy requirements for lot splits, stating that applicants would have to plan on living on the property of the lot split for a minimum of three years from the completion of the new housing unit on the site.

It also made updates to the size of the developments to be more consistent with ADU regulations.

Longtime resident  David Dornblaser, spoke against the lot splitting.

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