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County's Move to Ease Parkland Rules Nears Final Step

June 11, 1985|JOHN NEEDHAM | Times Staff Writer

A little-noticed Board of Supervisors decision a year ago that would benefit land developers and cost the county potential parkland is now only two steps shy of becoming law.

Step one occurs today, when the Planning Commission will consider changing the rules under which developers set aside land for local parks. Developers who have built more housing than they were required to for low- and moderate-income people would be able to escape some of the parkland obligations under the proposed rules.

A report by the Environmental Management Agency says it is "highly improbable" that developers will cash in all outstanding credits in return for eased parkland requirements. But if they did, the county could lose 154 acres of future local parkland or $46 million in fees.

If the Planning Commission approves, the legislation will go to the Board of Supervisors for final approval. But it has already drawn fire from homeowners groups.

Beneficiaries of the board action would be developers who accumulated excess credits under the county's mandatory affordable housing program, which took effect in 1979 and is now being phased out.

The affordable housing program required developers to provide 25% of their new units for sale or rent to low- or moderate-income residents. Those who exceeded 25% were given credits, which they could sell to other builders or use themselves for future developments.

Separate regulations now require developers to give the county 2 1/2 acres of land for every 1,000 people who will live in their new development or else pay a stiff fee.

Under the proposed legislation, every 10 excess credits derived from building housing for low-income residents under the affordable housing program would enable a developer to reduce the parkland commitment by one acre.

In June, 1984, the supervisors adopted a resolution establishing guidelines for developers to exchange affordable housing credits and told county planners and lawyers to draw up legislation to implement the resolution.

The proposed local park code amendment was first discussed at the May 28 Planning Commission meeting, but when homeowners groups charged they were given insufficient notice of the change, the meeting was continued until today at 1:30 p.m. in the county Hall of Administration in Santa Ana.

Among the homeowner-group leaders raising questions about the proposed rule change is Bob Hurst, chairman of the parks and recreation committee of the Laguna Niguel Community Council.

"I don't know what parks have to do with affordable housing to begin with," said Hurst, describing the proposed swap as "not a nice ordinance."

"I can't come up with anything positive," he said, "and I work for a

developer, too."

Stiles Burke, president of the 400-family South Laguna Civic Assn., said he too is preparing to tell the supervisors of his opposition to the proposal.

"I can't possibly understand how it could conceivably benefit the general public," Burke said. "I don't see any association or relationship between affordable housing and park space except that (when) we have more affordable housing, we really have a higher density population and we really need the park space . . . .

"I feel that the purpose behind it is primarily to benefit the developers who have these credits and would like to sell them for a profit. And I don't feel the county government or the taxpayers of this county have any obligation to see these guys profit on such a transaction."

Both Burke and Hurst said the supervisors' adoption of the resolution last June caught them by surprise. Even when he learned of it, Hurst said, county staffers told him "it didn't mean anything without a park code amendment," so he was not overly concerned.

At the time they passed the resolution, the supervisors ordered that the EMA and the county counsel come up with an amendment to the local park code, and it is the proposed amendment that comes up before the Planning Commission again today.

The current action is the legacy of the county's mandatory affordable housing program. The program required builders to provide 25% of their new units at prices that were within the means of residents earning 120% or less of the county's median income.

The number of credits earned depended on the housing built, with low-income housing--built for residents earning 80% or less of the median county income--generating more credits than moderate-income housing. The moderate-income housing was in turn divided into two categories: housing for those earning up to 100% of the median income and those earning up to 120% of the median.

Developers who built affordable housing were also allowed to build more units per acre than was otherwise allowed, could omit garages, and were entitled to other incentives.

Builders Wanted Compensation

In 1983, the supervisors decided to phase out the mandatory program over a three-year period, letting builders voluntarily provide affordable housing.

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