By Karen Brainard
A private California company that specializes in affordable housing is proposing a development on Robertson Street, prompting skepticism from some members of the Ramona Community Planning Group at their April 4 meeting.
Mario Turner, vice president of development for AMCAL, presented the company’s concept of “affordable workforce housing for families,” asking for the planners’ feedback. Turner was joined by architect Kevin Newman, chairman and managing partner of Newman Garrison + Partners in Newport Beach.
“We’re long-term owners. We have a stake in what we build,” Turner said.
AMCAL is looking into buying an eight-acre parcel north of Robertson Street at Pala Street behind Kmart, but would only develop four acres in the lower half, said Turner. The development would consist of 60 units of two- and three-bedroom apartments, which is within the 15 units per acre county guideline.
Newman showed a layout of the proposed development, noting that most of the parking will be concealed.
“We want to promote a very strong pedestrian-oriented community,” Newman said.
The two-story buildings will be designed with front porches or balconies and reflect classic California farmhouse architecture, he said.
“As we looked at Ramona, we saw a very rural environment,” the architect explained. The farmhouse design, he said, “allows us to embrace the rural nature.”
Turner said they have researched zoning with the county.
“Nothing here deviates from the code,” he said.
Target renters would be those earning between 30 and 60 percent of the average median income. For a four-person family, that would be an income of $24,180 to $48,360, said Turner.
The development will have a community center and a 24-hour onsite manager, he said.
Planning group members over the years have complained that Ramona has received more than its fair share of affordable housing.
When planner Kevin Wallace asked why AMCAL chose Ramona, Turner said, “We’re trying to respond to a need.” He then referred to the county Housing Element report for Ramona.
RCPG Chair Jim Piva said, “I think the more demand would be senior housing. That’s the need. We hear it a lot.”
Piva noted that most families want to live close to work.
“There’s not a lot of jobs in our community,” he said.
RCPG Secretary Kristi Mansolf also noted there is not much public transportation in Ramona.
Planner Chad Anderson asked Turner if the project would be subsidized by the state, noting the state is in a financial crisis.
Turner responded that their main source of funding is state tax credits that they sell to major banks, and they will also apply for county funding. The funding they are pursuing is already designated for affordable workforce housing, he said.
“This is money already earmarked,” Turner said.
When Anderson asked if the rent is subsidized, Turner said it is set below market rate. Rent will range from $544 for a two bedroom on the low end to just over $1,000 for a three bedroom on the high end, with renters paying no more than 30 percent of their annual income. Turner said they have no plans to utilize government Housing Authority Section 8 rent subsidies.
Turner said they will do credit and criminal checks for those applying for an apartment.
“There is a very thorough process to screen applicants,” he said. “Our goal is to create a long-term community asset.”
Turner jotted down comments and suggestions from the planners.
He and Newman also made a presentation to the Ramona Design Review Board at its March 28 meeting. Members provided suggestions on landscaping, rooflines, walkways, and fences.