Mammoth Lakes Housing pursues appraisal of undeveloped affordable housing parcel.
The Mammoth Lakes Housing (MLH) Board voted on Monday to pursue a $2,280 appraisal of the undeveloped Shady Rest parcel, which sits between Center Street and Sierra Nevada Road. The Board’s intent, according to MLH Executive Director Jennifer Halferty, is to come up with an appraised value for the parcel so that the MLH Board can decide whether or not to propose the Town buy it and use it to develop affordable housing.
According to the Mono County Assessor’s website, the Shady Rest parcel has already been appraised at $2 million. MLH will pay for its appraisal using its Professional Fees.
The 25-acre Shady Rest parcel has 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 55 moderate income single family residences and 117 very low-, low-, and moderate-income multifamily units (172 units total).
In December of last year, speculator Rob Mitchell came before the MLH Board to propose an amendment to the Shady Rest Master Plan and an amendment to the Zoning Code. The former amendment would have allowed for 300 rather than 172 units on the site, while the latter amendment would have allowed housing above the moderate income threshold.
At the time, Mitchell argued that 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.
Mitchell never bought the property outright, and has since fallen out of the running to develop the parcel.
Halferty said that Community and Economic Development Planner Sandra Moberly and Associate Planner Ruth Traxler recently indicated to her “that the current owners have discussed with them possibly doing a Master Plan Amendment and maybe a Zoning Code Amendment” for the site.
Town Manager Dan Holler confirmed that “The owners have intimated at other public meetings that they’re looking at a General Plan amendment that would take that affordable housing overlay off.”
The owners’ representative Mark Carney declined to comment for the story.
Halferty said that if the Town did approve an amendment, the parcel’s value would likely change. “I think that’s why it’s important for MLH to have a sense of what is the value of the land with the zoning as it’s been for the past couple decades,” Halferty said. “And if we as a community or a town entertain the change [to the Master Plan and/or Zoning Code], what are we getting, as far as value? Are we doing what’s called an up-zoning, and creating more value for the owners? If we are, what is the community getting for that?”
Halferty acknowledged that any development of the Shady Rest parcel will likely be “hard to pencil, considering the cost of development in Mammoth.” But she argued that “it’s easier to finance affordable housing than moderate and middle income housing, because there are all kinds of public funding tools, such as tax credits and bonds, to develop affordable housing, and that’s true just not in Mammoth, but throughout the nation.”
But while Town Manager Dan Holler said he didn’t have a problem with MLH moving forward on an appraisal, he said that it was unlikely the Town would purchase the Shady Rest parcel.
“The Town would have to figure out how to purchase the land, and right now there are no dollars to use for debt service,” he said. “… So being able to do that would be problematic.”
What’s more, Holler said he considered it likely that the current property owners would “not be willing to sell it at whatever the [MLH] appraised value is.”
Holler said the Town could have to go through a condemnation process in order to acquire the property. “If you have willing sellers you can go through a friendly condemnation process. That’s I believe what the Town ended up doing with the Bell Shaped parcel,” he said.
If the condemnation is unfriendly, however, “There’s a whole legal process you have to go through,” Holler said. “There are findings you have to make; you have to determine that the Town really needs the parcel for that [affordable housing] purpose.” Beyond the expense of going through this process, “I don’t see that as a friendly environment to do business in,” Holler said.
As for the owners’ intention for the parcel, he said he believed they did not wish to develop the parcel as it is currently zoned. Holler added that he didn’t believe Town Council was in unanimous agreement that affordable housing was the best use for the parcel, either.
MLH Board President Kirk Stapp expressed his frustration that the Town does not appear to be prioritizing affordable housing at the Shady Rest site, but is instead pursuing “mixed use.”
“The Town has reduced the housing fees to almost nothing, so this is the Town’s one chance, really, to provide affordable housing,” he said. Stapp acknowledged that the parcel, one of few remaining in town that is undeveloped, is coveted by many groups for many different potential uses—everything from a housing development to a Recreation Center.
In spite of this, Stapp remained hopeful that the MLH appraisal might be a “first step … the idea is that maybe we can work something out with the owners,” he said. “They have an appraisal on it [the parcel], we’ll have an appraisal … It could be a friendly or hostile exchange, and then the Town Council needs to decide what do they want to do.”