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City to Host Virtual Public Meeting About Building Housing on Church Property

Published on Thursday, July 9, 2020 | 2:41 pm

The city will hold a virtual meeting to get the public’s input on a zoning amendment that could allow churches to build housing on church property.
So far no date has been set for the meeting, but city officials say it could be as early as next month.

About 60 people tuned in virtually to Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting to hear a study session on the item.

No action was required on the item.

The “YIGBY” movement (Yes in God’s Backyard), a recent state effort by churches and faith-based organizations, has promoted the use of land owned by religious organizations as a response to the state’s housing crisis by allowing for the redevelopment of church parking lots into affordable housing for low-income and moderate-income households.

“An overlay zone would allow congregations to build affordable housing,” said Dorothy Milton in a letter to the commission.

Seven churches in Pasadena are interested. This will allow churches to build affordable housing more quickly and less expensively. It could save over $100,000 in cost per development, save at least a year getting it built, and provide the certainty needed to attract a highly qualified developer.”

The commission received more than 70 letters on the matter. Many of them appeared to be a form letter in support of the amendment.

Two bills, SB 899 and AB 1851 open the door of allowing housing by-right on property owned by faith-based organizations and/or other nonprofit institutions, as well as potential standards for parking requirements.

However, according to the city is considering its own amendment because the laws only allow for affordable housing and not market rate units.

Decades ago, monolith churches were built in communities across the state on large parcels with huge parking lots.

As membership dwindled, churches were left with empty parking lots and buildings they cannot afford to repair.

City staff has been working on an overlay that would allow housing on church property and property meeting specific criteria. The overlay would for a reduction in parking, establish density and height regulations that would be compatible with the regulationsfound in adjacent zones.

Several commissioners questioned the amendment because it would give churches special privileges, not enjoyed by other non-profits.

PUSD, which has surplus property and land, could not build housing on those properties.

“The Commission had a great discussion that focused on the needs of PUSD and other institutions in the City, and potential ‘gaming’ of the system,” Commission Chair Felicia Williams. “I am worried that there may be a developer out there selling this to churches as a way to make money with market rate luxury housing units. This could threaten some institutions’ tax-exempt status, and the City has a responsibility to protect its citizens. I hope the Planning Department takes our input seriously, takes the 4-6 months needed to do research and full public outreach, and crafts a legally defensible policy that produces more of the affordable housing we need for Pasadena residents.”

The meeting was Williams’ first meeting as chair of the commission.

At the last committee, the commission received information on a zoning code amendment that would allow FEMA trailers to be parked on church property and used as affordable housing.

The city received 50 FEMA trailers at the start of the pandemic.

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