Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Naples TDR proposal to get another look


County officials will take another month to examine overarching and mechanical issues raised by the County Planning Commission about a proposed Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) ordinance associated with the undeveloped Naples township.
Following a lengthy feasibility study, the Board of Supervisors authorized staff earlier this year to finalize such an ordinance that would encourage the relocation or elimination of development at the Naples site, an 800-acre area on the Gaviota Coast.
Leading the charge to tinker with the proposed language presented at a hearing on Wednesday was Commissioner Daniel Blough, who raised a slew of issues ranging from concerns about the imprecision of the ordinance to a suggestion to streamline its process.

In essence, the TDR program seeks to transfer development out of the agricultural Naples area to urban settings elsewhere in the county. Through the program, developers with property in urban areas could pay for density credits, allowing them to build more units than allowed by zoning.
Those funds would be used to buy up the development rights of Naples landowners, preventing them from building on the coastal site in perpetuity.
A development project currently envisioned by the owners of Santa Barbara Ranch and the adjacent Dos Pueblos Ranch, which cover the majority of the Naples township, proposes building up to 72 residential units at the scenic site.
Preservationists hope the TDR process will allow Naples landowners to receive equitable compensation for their development rights while saving at least a portion of land viewed by many as one of the few largely unblemished areas of the coast.
However, Blough took issue with the loose, adaptive structure proposed in the draft ordinance, arguing that developers won’t bite unless there is a rigid and clear method of calculating the cost and payoff for buying density credits.
“A developer can come in and say, how much does it cost and how many [units] am I going to get,” he said. “You can’t tell me.”
Tom Figg, project manager for the county, said the draft ordinance is imprecise by design in order to maximize its potential for success. With more precise and detailed language, he said, the likelihood for failure or legal challenges increases.
“People struggle with that and would like more certainty and would like it to be more exacting,” Figg said.
Another major issue Blough had with the ordinance is the concept of creating a captive market by only allowing “upzoning” — rezoning to allow higher-density projects — in the context of the TDR program.
While the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors made it clear that participation in the TDR program by Naples landowners is not mandatory, the ordinance remains firm on requiring that all upzoning be contingent on the purchase of TDR density credits.
“If you do allow rezoning to occur independent of this ordinance, it pretty much dilutes the marketplace,” Figg said.
If developers can find other ways of building denser projects, he explained, such as through an affordable housing incentive program, they might be less likely to buy up TDR credits.
Also of concern to several commissioners is language in the ordinance they feel could allow development simply to be transferred to other rural areas in the county, rather than creating urban infill.
“I’m very concerned that, as written, the document opens the door to development in rural areas,” Commissioner Cecilia Brown said. “I like the idea of incentivizing development in the urban area.”
Proposed criteria for determining an eligible “receiver” location include sites located in or adjacent to the urban growth boundary, sites without environmental constraints, and sites that don’t contain prime agricultural land.
Blough also expressed concern about the length of time needed for the county to determine if a developer has a valid receiver site.
As proposed by the ordinance, the developer would submit an abbreviated application and county staff would have 30 days to determine eligibility for the TDR program. The project would then have to be scheduled for a Planning Commission hearing in order to be tentatively assigned density credits pending project approval.
Blough said tying up the process with lengthy timelines would discourage developers from participating in the TDR program, an issue Figg said has been discussed at length during numerous meetings of a stakeholder group that has been working on the ordinance for years.
“It’s worth taking another look and seeing if we can tighten it up,” Figg said.
Questions were also raised over the concept of amenity funds — a portion of the density credit proceeds that would be used for infrastructure enhancements and improvements in the urban neighborhoods where credits are awarded.
As proposed by the draft ordinance, those funds would be awarded by a nonprofit intermediary in the transfer process, dubbed the TDR Authority. Blough suggested simply allowing the developer to work with the neighborhood to figure out the best way to use amenity funds.
Using an intermediary to extract a percentage of the funds and award them to the neighboring area “is like the state taking our taxes and giving them back to us,” Blough said.
Initially, the other commissioners seemed more in favor of making small changes to the ordinance and passing it along to the Board of Supervisors for final tinkering and adoption.
“This is a living document,” Commissioner Joe Valencia said. “Every time it came before us we made a change. … It’ll get corrected, amended and upgraded as we move forward.”
After listening to Blough’s concerns, however, the vote was unanimous to allow staff to examine those issues and return on June 4 with more analysis.
Commissioner Mike Cooney said Blough approached the draft ordinance from a much different viewpoint but raised several logical and valid reasons for further study.
“I think the extra time we are spending at this level … will benefit the community and the Santa Barbara Ranch project especially,” he said, adding that the Board of Supervisors will also appreciate having less work to do when the issue comes before them.
Figg agreed that giving the ordinance another look would only bring the community closer to compromise.
“These are not necessarily new issues,” he said. “We will seek common ground that people can come to consensus on. This is not extraordinary and these were valid issues to raise.”

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