Torn on the question of how to prevent overflow parking onto a nearby public street, the Morgan Hill Planning Commission Oct. 26 narrowly approved the design permit for a 249-unit affordable housing complex north of town.
The project consists of 14 buildings—as well as open space, parking and related communal areas—on a 7.5-acre site at the northeast corner of Monterey Road and Madrone Parkway. The proposed units are a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom homes ranging between 617 and 1,122 square feet.
The property is the former site of California Towing, and is surrounded by lower-density single-family homes to the north and east, and by commercial/industrial uses to the south and west.
The project, known as The Village at Madrone, is owned by San Mateo-based Jemcor.
Planning commissioners at the Oct. 26 meeting were divided on the best way to avoid anticipated parking problems related to residents and guests of the high-density project parking their vehicles on nearby Taylor Avenue, a public street on the eastern boundary of the Jemcor site. Ultimately, the commission voted 4-3 to approve the proposal’s design permit with a requirement that the developer install a decorative metal fence—with an exit-only pedestrian gate—along Taylor Avenue.
The concept of such a barrier—specifically a masonry wall—was suggested by residents of Taylor Avenue.
Some of these residents spoke at the Oct. 26 meeting, explaining that some of the new residents and visitors of The Villages will likely park their vehicles on Taylor Avenue, thus bringing more traffic to the neighborhood. A fence or wall, theoretically, would make it more of a hassle for these motorists to park on Taylor.
Brian Sullivan, a longtime resident of Taylor Avenue, said such traffic between the public street and the Jemcor development would “disrupt this neighborhood.”
“We are not against this complex being built,” he said. “What we’re against is the additional parking we’ll see on Taylor. We need that (wall) continued all the way around Taylor Avenue.”
Representatives of Jemcor noted that the development is proposing 428 parking spaces—for an average of 1.7 parking spaces per unit—that will be assigned to each unit. That’s more than required by city and state land use guidelines, according to Keith Labus of KTGY Architects, which designed the project for Jemcor.
Still, planning commissioners expect to see a parking overflow problem on the nearby public street based on patterns seen at similar projects in Morgan Hill that were completed in recent years. Parking is prohibited on Monterey Road and Madrone Parkway in the area of the Jemcor development.
Questions remain about whether the addition of a wall around the residential development aligns with the city’s General Plan long-term land use goals, or if it would even prevent the feared parking problems.
“Preventing pedestrian access or bicycle access is a safety concern and would be inconsistent with the City’s General Plan,” says a city staff report. “The city promotes integrated and connected neighborhoods and providing a pedestrian-friendly environment. Walling off this development would conflict with General Plan policies.”
Commissioner Liam Downey, who supported the motion to require a fence on Taylor Avenue, said at the Oct. 26 meeting, “These are all public streets. We want to make sure we’re not taking these 249 (-plus) new residents and isolating them into some caged corner and say ‘we can use the street but you can’t.’ I’m struggling with that a little bit.”
Commissioner Juan Miguel Munoz-Morris had proposed parking restrictions on the street—such as no overnight parking—as an alternative to a fence or wall, but that idea failed to gain majority support. He said there is no guarantee a fence will be effective.
“We’re making the assumption that the (fence) will mitigate the parking problem, and I’m not convinced,” Munoz-Morris said. “And it seems to make this inconsistent with our General Plan provisions.”
Voting in favor of the fence were Commissioners Wayne Tanda (who made the motion for approval), Chair Malisha Kumar, Joe Mueller and Downey. Munoz-Morris as well as Commissioners Laura Gonzalez Escoto and Mohammad Habib voted against the fence.
Jemcor did not immediately respond to the planning commission’s fence requirement.
As an affordable housing proposal in the midst of a state-declared housing crisis, The Villages faces an easier path to construction than Morgan Hill’s guidelines would normally allow. In 2019, the legislature approved SB 330, which largely denies cities and counties the authority to limit or reject housing proposals based on local guidelines.
Furthermore, as an affordable housing project, Jemcor gets to take advantage of a longtime state law known as the “density bonus law.” This allows The Villages to increase the zoned density on the property by 80%, and grants the developer additional exemptions to local development and design standards.
In The Villages’ case, Jemcor requested and was granted exemptions to Morgan Hill’s building height restrictions (38 feet proposed), floor area ratio and the project’s required setback from Taylor Avenue (15 feet instead of 20).
Under the density bonus law, the city also granted Jemcor concessions to reduce parking space sizes, eliminate covered and long-term bicycle parking and storage and reduce its decorative pavement requirements.
Jennifer Johnson, who is on Jemcor’s design team for The Villages, gave examples of the income restrictions for new residents of the “workforce housing” project. A two-person household with a combined income up to $79,560 per year (60% of the area median income) would qualify for a one-bedroom home. A four-person household with a combined income up to $99,420 would qualify for a three-bedroom unit.