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Council needs to take a real look at workforce housing project

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POSTED September 27, 2009 2:29 a.m.
Those living in the Land of the McMansions are about to get new neighbors – workforce housing.

Winters Colonial Estates proposed for five acres fronting Woodward Avenue midway between Pillsbury Road and Adora Drive will have 40 houses.

Instead of the 65 to 70 foot lot widths you’ll find at all of the surrounding neighborhoods by Woodward Park, the minimum lot frontage will be 34 feet.

That’s half the size of other lot frontages in the area.

You won’t find anything smaller than 6,000-square-foot lots in the area with most being at least 1,000 square feet bigger. The minimum lot size in the proposed project is 3,100 square feet or roughly half the size of typical lots you’ll find in the Shasta Park neighborhood and the areas north and south of Louise Avenue east of Union Road. In these neighborhoods you’ll find five homes per acre. The new project will have eight homes per acre.

The houses that will be built also will be a lot smaller. Homes in the Woodward Park area average about 2,800 square feet with sizes varying from 1,600 to 4,300 square feet. The homes in Winters Colonial Estates will range from 1,000 to 1,470 square feet.

Winter Colonial Estates will also allow one-car garages.

If you don’t think there is a new wind blowing down at City Hall, guess again.

Five years ago, Florsheim Homes was completely rebuffed by the Community Development Department  while trying to pursue a similar project.

Frontline planning staff threw up all sorts of road blocks despite the fact the City Council had explicitly made it clear they wanted more affordable housing. The problem was the bureaucrats were holding on for dear life to city policies that had been in place for years.

The staff hated the idea of one car garages, was upset about limited street parking that was the direct results of shorter lot frontages made even smaller by driveways, and the fact the developer actually had the audacity to ask for smaller streets on the assumption that it would slow down traffic as it did in planned developments in Turlock and Oakdale where narrower streets also created  more cohesive neighborhood.

There were some folks who were also a bit miffed at the fact there was no RV access designed into the neighborhood. That’s right. The city had an affordable housing project before them and they were concerned whether the people buying the homes would be able to park expensive toys such as RVs on the lot.

The developer – who was among those that many front-line planners employed at that time would openly despise as a group for not doing anything for affordable housing – simply threw up her hands and dumped the project. They gave Manteca’s planning bureaucrats what they wanted – their comfort zone which was more of the same homes.

The applicant for Winters Colonial Estates is Ben Cantu of BC Planning who once worked the other side of the counter at the  Community Development Department and is a candidate for mayor of Manteca in November of 2010.

The Manteca Planning Commission this past week recommended the Manteca City Council approve the project with a prezone, annexation, planned development, and tentative subdivision map.

Only one nearby resident spoke up against the project. His concern – which is legitimate– was about parking. He noted many similar workforce housing projects in the Bay Area create parking nightmares.

That’s why Manteca needs to really be progressive on the workforce housing issue,

Why not take the best aspects of some smaller lot projects and make them part of future workforce housing in Manteca? One such option would be to require alleys in the back of homes.

The better projects require concrete alleys with garage access from the alleys. The alleys are landscaped with utilities running under the grass making it easier to access without ripping up the concrete.

The alley access for garages does two things. First, it allows the entire 34-foot frontage of each lot to be used for parking since driveways eat up a good chunk of useable street space. Second, it sends garbage trucks down alleys.

And by requiring concrete, you substantially extend the life of the alleys.

Anyone can piece together an affordable workforce housing project by simply shrinking McMansions.

It takes real visionaries to create something that is really innovative and effective.

There is no reason why Manteca needs to make a mistake.

The Manteca City Council can require proponents of Winters Colonial Estates to go back to the drawing board and advance an innovative workforce housing project that makes real sense and would be an even more attractive place to live.
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