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Zoning changes approved

Post Date:02/01/2024

Following more than three years of study, a citizens advisory committee, two commissions, environmental analysis and thousands of public comments, the City Council on Tuesday approved zoning changes on 16 properties across Carlsbad to meet state housing requirements. Under new state housing laws, cities that fail to provide land to meet housing needs would lose control over where new housing gets built and how much. 

The action Tuesday is part of the city’s Housing Element, a plan all California cities are required to update about every eight years based on projected housing needs. Housing needs for cities in the San Diego region are decided by the San Diego Association of Government based on state population projections, employment centers and other factors.

Cities need to ensure enough vacant properties are zoned for housing, but it is up to property owners to decide when to build.

For the current plan, Carlsbad was required to designate space for about 3,900 new housing units, of which about 2,100 need to be affordable for people with lower incomes.

  • Some of these units could be built on land already zoned for housing.
  • In other cases, properties needed to be rezoned to either allow housing on land currently zoned for commercial or industrial uses or to allow more housing on sites already zoned for housing.

The state deadline to make these changes is April 2024.

Understanding state housing laws
The state of California passed several new laws in recent years in response to cities not approving enough new housing to meet demand. State officials have cited the lack of affordability, worker shortages near employment centers and an increase in people experiencing homelessness for the first time as signs of a housing crisis requiring state intervention.

Cities that do not meet new state housing mandates are subject to what is referred to as the Builder’s Remedy, a provision of state laws that would allow future housing to be built at any site and at any density, with cities having little to no recourse.

By approving the zoning changes, the City of Carlsbad will maintain more control over where future housing could be built in the city and at what density. These changes also make Carlsbad eligible for state grants to help fund infrastructure improvements and affordable housing.

Last year, the Carlsbad City Council also approved objective design standards for multifamily and mixed use projects. This is one tool available to cities under new housing laws that allows some control over the look and feel of projects to help ensure they blend in with existing neighborhoods.

About the sites

The approved map of housing sites includes changes to zoning that will:

  • Allow housing on certain properties currently zoned for commercial and industrial uses
  • Increase the amount of housing on properties already zoned for residential development

Sites were selected based on input from the community, including people who own and live near properties that could be rezoned, along with a City Council-appointed citizens advisory committee. In February 2022, the City Council directed staff to fully study the environmental impacts of 18 sites. On Tuesday, the City Council certified the resulting environmental impact report.

Additional actions

The City Council also took the following actions:

  • Approved minimum affordability requirements of 40% for the two city-owned sites and 20% for the remaining 14 sites. This means that if housing is built on the city-owned sites, 40% of those housing units must be offered at prices that are affordable to lower income families, and likewise for 20% of the units built on all other sites. This exceeds the citywide mandatory inclusionary housing program that requires housing developers to provide 15% of their total units as affordable to low income households.
  • Approved updates required by the state to the public safety chapter of the General Plan, called the Public Safety Element. These changes relate to new or expanded analysis on topics such as climate change resiliency, wildfires and flooding.

Next steps
Following the zoning changes, it will now be up to property owners to decide whether to build more housing on these sites and when. Rezoning of sites in the Coastal Zone will also require California Coastal Commission approval.

More information

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