Portola Valley staff released a draft of its hotly debated state-mandated housing plan last week. Tasked with zoning for more housing and a decreased ability to rely on accessory dwelling units to meet state mandates, the town is coming up with ways to allow for more multifamily housing in town.
Residents have expressed concerns about sullying the town's rural character and building more homes in a region that is already at a heightened risk for wildfires. But the town is required to plan for new housing, and the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) is getting stricter about enforcing these plans.
Towns and cities also face significant exposure to liability, according to the state. Courts may revoke the local government's land use and planning authority, and local government agencies deemed out of compliance may be subject to judgments and fines of up to $100,000 per month.
The town is assigned 253 units in the 2023-31 Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), compared to just 64 last cycle. The proposal also includes a 21% buffer, meaning the town is aiming for 306 units.
Some of the proposed sites in the housing element are part of the town's Affiliated Housing Program, which allows multifamily housing on "institutional" sites (like Woodside Priory School and Stanford University) for employees and staff affiliated with the institutions that own the parcels. The town itself recently joined the Affiliated Housing Program, according to a January Ad Hoc Housing Element Committee document.
Below are sites included in the draft housing element:
The town is proposing developing part of the town-owned Ford Field, a 2.48-acre site on the northeast corner of town, along Alpine Road. The parcel currently includes a baseball field (which the town would keep if the site were to be developed).
Town consultant Lisa Wise Consulting developed a conceptual site plan showing that up to 50 units is possible on the developable portion of the site, according to the draft housing element. The site could also include 7,000 square feet of community space and a playground. The town plans to create a new multifamily district that will allow 20 units per acre and the site would be rezoned multifamily.
The town would like to offer the site to nonprofit low-income housing developers to provide 50 very low-income units, according to the draft housing element. The town has spoken to Alta Housing, a nonprofit agency that has built low- and moderate income housing projects in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. Alta's preliminary review shows this project would be competitive for tax credits and a project would be feasible, according to the report.
Nathhorst Triangle neighborhood
There are still sites in the Nathhorst Triangle neighborhood, where some neighbors said they felt "blindsided" by potential upzoning of their properties, included in the plan. In March, they filed a "massive" public records request after sites in the neighborhood were proposed for upzoning. Mayor Craig Hughes said one neighbor threatened to bankrupt the town with lawsuits if the housing element wasn't to his liking. The draft plan does not include sites with existing homes.
The town proposes zoning for 23 units on a vacant 1.18-acre lot located at 4395 Alpine Road (to be zoned at 20 units per acre).
The second Natthorst site is located at 4370 Alpine Road, about 1.5 acres developed with "underutilized" office uses. Lisa Wise Consulting prepared a preliminary concept plan and the Ad Hoc Housing Element Committee found that the site could be rezoned as a mixed-use district with a density of 6 units per acre. The site inventory estimates nine townhome units could be developed. The property owner has also expressed interest in redeveloping the site, according to the draft housing element.
The Glen Oaks site, owned by Stanford University, has about 4 acres of developable land at the corner of Alpine Road and Arastradero Road. A portion of the land is occupied by the Isola Stables at the Glen Oaks Equestrian Center. The site is across the street from the proposed 39-unit Stanford Wedge project, which some neighbors have spoken out against.
Stanford has expressed interest in working with the town to develop housing at the Glen Oaks site for faculty and staff with an affordable housing component.
This site will be rezoned with a new multifamily district that will allow up to 8 units per acre, with up to 29 units of development.
The town plans to include land owned by The Sequoias, located on an approximately 42-acre parcel just south of Portola Road in the central portion of the town. The Sequoias is in the early phases of exploring further developing the property. The northern portion of the site is currently developed into a retirement community.
There are two potential locations for additional housing. The sites inventory includes 18 market rate units for seniors and five workforce housing units for their employees. The workforce units are expected to reduce commutes for employees that travel great distances to work and help with emergency response capacity.
The site is near the San Andreas Fault and includes potentially unstable soils.
There are six units included in the plan on the 2.9-acre plot of land that houses Christ Church at 815 Portola Road.
The site currently includes the church, a preschool and a parking lot. The parking lot behind the church is the potential location for a housing development, according to staff.
Ladera Community Church
The Town Council previously voted to include Ladera Community Church in the Affiliated Housing Program, and the housing element update would formalize that action. The town plans to rezone it to a new multifamily zoning district to allow up to 20 units per acre.
The site is a half-acre parcel located west of Alpine Road, in the northeastern portion of the town. The church facility itself is located on the immediately adjacent property, which is located outside of town limits.
The development site is currently vacant, with only a small portion used as a children's play area for the church.
Projects already in the pipeline
The town has two projects in the pipeline that may count toward its updated housing element.
The Willow Commons at 4388 Alpine Road near Roberts Market has already been approved and has 13 units. The project is aimed at providing apartments for adults with disabilities.
The Stanford Wedge project, located at Alpine Road and Golden Oak Drive is still pending approval.
Policies to encourage more housing stock
The town plans to create an amnesty program for existing, unpermitted accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to obtain permits to legalize the ADUs during the 2023-31 planning period. The amnesty program would provide property owners the opportunity to formally legalize existing unpermitted ADUs.
The town hopes to develop an affordable ADU rental program to house low-income tenants who have experienced displacement from areas outside of Portola Valley due to increasing rents, relying on Portola Valley ADU owners willing to rent ADUs at below market rates.
Another town plan for more housing is to create a new voluntary upzoning program that allows property owners with sites 1 acre or greater to develop up to 4 units per acre, assuming they meet the safety criteria:
• Accessible to two ways of ingress and egress.
• Located on a slope less than 30%.
• Outside of a very high fire hazard severity zone.
• Outside of a fault zone.
• Outside of areas identified with unstable soils or at risk of landslide or liquefaction.
The town also plans to prepare pre-approved preliminary floor plans for ADUs and JADUs that are made available to property owners. Pre-approved floor plans could significantly decrease the level of effort required of property owners in designing and permitting a JADU or ADU, according to the town.
Challenges with designing affordable housing
Land is expensive in town, with the average home selling for around $4.5 million in April, according to Zillow.
Accordingly, sites that allow denser development of at least 20 units per acre are considered able to accommodate lower-income units.
The Planning Commission will review the draft housing element on Wednesday, June 15, at 7 p.m. on Zoom and provide feedback to the Town Council. The council will meet at a future date to review the draft.
The public has until 5 p.m. on July 8 to comment on the draft element before it is sent to the state.
After council review, staff will update the draft based on the comments received and submit it to the state for review. In the fall, the town will conduct additional public meetings to update the document according to HCD feedback.