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Board of Supervisors Approves Delay for Rice Ranch Affordable Housing Project in Orcutt

A major development in Orcutt can construct 14 more single-family homes before reaching the requirement to build affordable housing, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors decided in a 3-2 vote Tuesday.

But the project’s current developers intend to seek permission to pay fees, as allowed under the county’s inclusionary housing rules, instead of building the affordable homes at the site.

The ordinances and resolution to defer building the affordable housing units drew opposition Tuesday from Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr and Chairwoman Janet Wolf, who represents the Second District.

The supervisors approved the item without comment Tuesday, a week after they aired their reasons for supporting or opposing the request.

“Today is predominantly to allow us to build the last 14 homes to complete the single-family at Rice Ranch,” Shea Homes representative Andrew Daymude said last week. “This is really a stop-gap action today to allow us to continue to build out the lots that are constructed on the site today.”

The Rice Ranch Specific Plan, originally approved in 2003, calls for 725 residential units in five neighborhoods to be developed on 580 acres south of Rice Ranch Road, along with a 26-acre community park, which has opened.

Since then, the housing market collapsed, the project got a new developer, and the county passed the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, which allows builders to pay fees in-lieu of building the affordable housing units.

In 2013, Shea Homes revived the stalled Rice Ranch project, which had fallen into foreclosure.

The new name is Trilogy Enclave at Rice Ranch. The firm also has built the Trilogy at Monarch Dunes in Nipomo.

“These guys have come in and tried to rescue this project,” said Supervisor Peter Adam, whose Fourth District includes Orcutt. “I think they’re really good people. I know they put out a really outstanding product.

"I think we should work with them to get this thing moving and keep a little construction going on in Orcutt.”

In a separate application, Rice Ranch developers want to modify the project to pay in-lieu fees, plus include other amendments such as reconfiguring residential lots and roadways and a request to privatize the smaller neighborhood parks.

The application is being processed by county staff and will have to go to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors for approval in the future. 

The developer currently is required to build 73 units for low-income residents plus 73 workforce units. 

Originally, the plan called for the project to complete one affordable unit for every 10 market-rate houses built. The plan was revised twice before the latest request.

Construction on affordable housing is required after the 181st home is built, under a revised plan supervisors approved in 2012.

But developers sought this year to push that number to 195 and then require three affordable units for every eight market-rate units. 

So far, approximately 170 building permits have been issued for the development, county staff said. 

Wolf asked if the on-site affordable housing is required under the Orcutt Community Plan, saying the county should protect the integrity of its community plans. 

“Everybody thought that because this project was so large that if there was any one project in the Orcutt Community Plan that could provide and build a significant amount of affordable housing that it was at Rice Ranch,” Farr said. “I realize that sales prices in the area are probably at workforce but I would think the community could still use some built affordable housing.

“It really troubles me that applicant is considering not building any and considering doing some other pretty massive revisions to what the original plan was as far as reconfiguration,” Farr added.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino noted the lengthy span of time since the board first approved the project.

“A lot of things have changed between 2003 and 2015,” he said, adding that the Orcutt Community Plan’s approval was followed by the revised Inclusionary Housing Ordinance. “The rules under which this was originally approved, a lot of things have changed in that 12-year period.”

Shea Homes acquired the project with intentions to apply for in-lieu fee option instead of building the affordable housing at the site, Daymude said. 

“So it was never your intention, once you bought the project, to build any affordable units?” Farr asked.

“Our understanding was that we would be able to use the in-lieu housing fee and to pay the fee, which the county would like to have for that,” Daymude said.

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said the in-lieu fee ordinance provides another vehicle to create affordable housing that may not be lucrative for developers.

“It allows us to partner and leverage and maximize those resources to build it, in some cases even more appropriately,” Carbajal said.

Planning and Development Director Glenn Russell agreed.

“The way that affordable housing is actually successfully built in the community, more so than any other way, is using in-lieu fees and partnering with other organizations to construct affordable housing,”  Russell said. “That’s really the way it’s done."

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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