San Diego Complete Communities Regulations Are Coming to the Coastal Zone

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San Diego Complete Communities Regulations Are
Coming to the Coastal Zone

Taking an important step toward increasing housing density opportunities in the City of San Diego’s Coastal Zone, on July 11th, the San Diego City Council formally adopted the California Coastal Commission’s (“CCC”) modifications to the City’s Complete Communities Programs, which are comprised of the Housing Solutions Program (“Housing Solutions”) and Mobility Choices Program (“Mobility Choices”).  For the regulations to be effective in the City’s Coastal Zone, the City had to forward its formal acceptance to the CCC and the CCC’s Executive Director had to report the City Council’s approval to the CCC.  The CCC’s Executive Director reported the action at the CCC’s September 7, 2022 meeting and the Complete Communities Program now applies in the Coastal Zone and presents a unique opportunity for denser coastal housing projects.

The Complete Communities Programs, as adopted by the City Council in 2020 as amendments to the San Diego Municipal Code (“SDMC”), provide incentives to increase housing production and improve the mobility network around existing transit and development.  The Complete Communities Programs remove regulatory barriers to producing housing, invest in walking, biking, and transit infrastructure, and invest in neighborhood and mobility amenities, such as street trees, bicycle facilities, and promenades. 

For developers seeking to build housing in the Coastal Zone (or citywide), the Housing Solutions Program offers a unique opportunity to develop extremely dense projects through increased floor area ratios (“FAR”) and no limitation on density (except as limited by the California Building Code).  To qualify, properties must meet certain criteria, including that existing zoning allows for a minimum of 20 dwelling units per acre and the proposed development site is located within a Transit Priority Area.  An eligible development must also meet minimum affordability standards, comply with design standards, any either pay into a Neighborhood Enhancement Fund or construct a public promenade.

For qualifying projects, the Housing Solutions Program also provides opportunities for numerous incentives and waivers to development standards, including increasing FAR, sometimes dramatically.  The program identifies four specific FAR Tiers and assigns new maximum FARs that supersede what may have been available in the underlying base zone.  Within the Coastal Zone, projects that provide the necessary affordability are likewise entitled to an increase to a maximum FAR of 2.5.  Coastal Zone height is limited to a 30-foot maximum (with limited exceptions), but properties outside of the Coastal Zone are entitled to waiver of otherwise applicable maximum heights.  Like the Density Bonus Law, which is a separate program, the Housing Solutions Program offers increased incentives (up to five) depending upon the level of affordability provided.  The program’s benefits also include incentives related to required open space, maximum lot coverage, maximum lot area, and scaling or waiver of development impact fees.  The City’s Information Bulletin 411 provides a summary overview of the Housing Solutions Program.

The second component of the Complete Communities Programs – the Mobility Choices Program – provides mobility options and streamlines development in areas of the City that are most aligned with the City’s climate goals.  The program seeks to reduce citywide VMT by establishing Mobility Zones and requires projects, unless exempt, to implement VMT reducing measures or pay a transportation in-lieu fee.  The Mobility Choices Program also includes updates to the City’s CEQA Significance Determination Threshold for Transportation, a new transportation study manual that focuses on VMT reducing measures, and new Mobility Choices Implementation Guidelines, which include a list of VMT reducing measures and an active transportation in-lieu fee calculator tool to aid a project’s compliance with the program.

Within the Coastal Zone, the CCC’s proposed modifications included changes to the transportation study manual to guide applicants as to when additional analysis may be required for near-shore development.  The revisions, as accepted by the City, clarify where such additional analysis may be required and provides a list of transportation projects that are presumed to have a less than significant impact and would not be required to conduct a VMT analysis.

With adoption of the Complete Communities Programs, the City has sought to incentive and streamline development in the City to promote dense housing that furthered the City’s climate and VMT reducing goals.  To that end, the Compete Communities Programs provide an opportunity to housing developers.  Now that the City’s action was reported to the CCC, significant areas of the City now benefit from the unique opportunities presented by the Complete Communities Programs. 

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