The lot is irregular, and so is the proposed housing model; developers see it as lemons to lemonade.
Neighbors and some National City planning commissioners, however, see the four-unit communal living style project as a big problem. It would be the first project in the area to take advantage of high density. The vacant lot at 1628 Orange St. would yield a form of housing seen nowhere else in National City.
It's so new here its developers, whose goals are investment and patching the city's need for affordable housing, haven't quite figured out how to market it. Referred to at a Mar 5 planning commission meeting as a group home, dorm units, studios, multi-family dwelling units and micro-apartments, the applicants suggested uses ranging from rental housing to assisted living or corporate incubator. The city's zoning code doesn't even define it.
It's the housing equivalent of Uber, said site planner Keith Robinson. "I used to think Uber was so funny. Then my car broke down." The issue decided at the meeting (in favor of the applicants) was a zoning variance, without which the 1/2 acre lot would remain undeveloped. "The property has very limited street frontage" and can't meet the minimum required street wall width of 75 percent, says principal planner Martin Reeder in an email. Mixed-use projects are typically built to the front property line in order to promote walkability, he said. "Because of the zoning, the use would typically be allowed by right and would not need public input."
The homes, slated for a mixed-use zone allowing residential and commercial uses, would consist of four multifamily units, each having 10 bedrooms with their own bathrooms and closets, sized at 200-250 square feet. A common area would provide kitchen, dining, and recreational use. Other features include storage, outdoor patios and roof decks, parking, and 3,992 square feet of open space.
"Each one of these is a house. It's supposed to look like a house," said site planner Robinson. Critics fear a rowdy element coming to an otherwise quiet neighborhood. "I don't know how you get ten people in a space, have a common area, and have them all get along," said Commissioner Flores. It's hard enough with a family. "It sounds like everybody's going to live in their room. Maybe venture outside..."
One of the factors that could quash the project is being surrounded by single family homes, which it is. Commissioner DelaPaz suggested they revisit the zoning due to a "mismatch in character," though she would welcome it near the higher education center.
"This lot is where I would want to build my dream home." It's very rare for families to get a backyard, she said. "Build a dream home. Or two. Not 40."
Several neighbors spoke, all against it, citing fears about traffic, crime and disruption. "This is our dream house. The little white house with a picket fence," said Anna Maria Garcia. Mario Magana said traffic is already bad, it's hard to park. "With so many cars in and out, it's going to be a big problem." Commissioner Garcia pointed out that the entire city will soon be dealing with parking in a new way, as the city moves to implement permitted parking for everyone.
"It's going to be another fight" over "the ability to have a vehicle right in front of your house." The project would have 37 parking spaces, more than the 20 required, and would be near public transportation. With the city's housing crisis, these kinds of projects will keep coming to us, Garcia advised. Any house in the city now costs half a million dollars. "A dream house for someone like me is unattainable."