Applicant Rob Mitchell hopes to add market rate housing to the mix.
On December 1, the Mammoth Lakes Housing (MLH) Board considered a proposal by real estate investor Rob Mitchell to amend the Zoning Code and Master Plan pertaining to the 25-acre Shady Rest parcel between Center Street and Sierra Nevada Road.
The parcel remained undeveloped since it was obtained from the U.S. Forest Service as part of a land exchange to provide a site for the affordable housing mitigation required of the Trails subdivision. As of 1989, the Shady Rest Master Plan limited use of the property to 120 low income and 52 moderate income homes (172 units total).
Mitchell requested an amendment that would allow housing above the moderate income threshold, as well as an amendment that would allow up to 300 residential units.
The project also proposes street and sidewalk connections at Chaparral Road, Tavern Road, and Center Street.
Mitchell previously had the property in escrow, but is no longer in escrow at this time. While he has paid an application fee to push the project forward, at some point soon, he will be required to produce an owners’ authorization. As yet, this authorization has not been filed.
At Monday night’s Board meeting, MLH Board members raised questions ranging from what income groups the applicant would be targeting above the moderate income level, to whether 300 units would overcrowd a parcel already limited by a seven-acre undevelopable wetland site.
Regarding the range of housing on the parcel, Mitchell said that he believed only a mix of uses, such as apartments, attached single family homes, townhomes, and condominiums, in addition to affordable housing, would make the project feasible.
“We’re not trying to do away with the affordable housing,” he said. “We’re trying to get the market rate so it can support affordable housing. You can’t do 172 units without doing something that’s market rate.”
Furthermore, his proposal argued that while affordable housing neighborhoods have been created in urban settings, “they pose potential concerns in the way of segregation and fragmentation of our small town community. Limiting a project solely to deed restricted product often results in unsustainable neighborhoods that tend to fall into decay.”
Board member Lindsay Barksdale questioned whether Mitchell could provide more evidence to support his belief that workforce housing neighborhoods “tend to fall into decay.”
Board President Kirk Stapp agreed, saying that the biggest complaint regarding workforce housing has not been decay, but density.
“Is this really a livable community with 300 units?” wondered Board Vice-President Larry Johnston.
Mitchell argued that the density might not actually be as bad as Board members thought. “I had a new [wetland] delineation done that’s been approved, so there’s more buildable land than there was before,” he said.
However, Town Senior Planner Jen Daugherty said that Mitchell has not yet submitted that delineation to the Town.
His amendment application also proposed an using a portion of the site for public amenities. Mitchell said the public amenity would be an outdoor venue; MLH Director Jennifer Halferty recommended he consider a childcare center, considering the overwhelming community response during the Housing Element update about the need for more childcare options in Mammoth.
Halferty also alluded to The Sheet’s own recent report on Mono County pre-K “readiness” scores (see “Mono County Kids Falling Behind?”), which demonstrate the impact of the lack of childcare options.
Finally, the Board wondered how, if the development would not be deed restricted—as the proposal says it will not be—the developer proposed maintaining affordable housing for local workforce residents.
Halferty alluded to the San Joaquin Villas as an example of what happens when an affordable housing area loses its deed restrictions.
“The deed restrictions that Intrawest used for all 40 units had a clause that if the new San Joaquin Villa units didn’t sell within 180 days after the certificate of occupancy then the restriction would be removed,” she explained. “Once roughly half of them didn’t sell within that time frame, this was in 2007 when we first started seeing the lending market tighten and crumble, is when the restrictions were lifted and most of those sold to second home owners.”
Halferty and other Board members wondered how Mitchell would ensure this didn’t happen on a parcel that has been zoned for affordable housing since 1989.
“This has been a hotly contested piece of property for a long time,” MLH Board member Bill Taylor said. He worried that changing the designation to allow for above moderate income housing would appear to the Forest Service like a bait and switch, considering the Forest Service discounted the value of the land on an affordable housing basis.
Moreover, he said, “As we look at the numbers and demands we’ve projected for workforce housing, losing these units would be a serious bite out of our ability to meet that demand.”
Taylor recalled that the Shady Rest parcel became the site for affordable housing mitigation for the Trails only after the Trails area, which was intended itself for affordable housing, opened up to above moderate income housing. “Workforce housing has been chased around town for 30 years,” he said. “It would be nice if it found a home.”
Senior Planner Jen Daugherty said the application would next go through an early workshop with the Planning and Economic Development Commission and Town Council. “The Town is in the very initial phases of the process, with regards to the application,” she added.