By Karen Brainard
Details about a proposed affordable workforce housing community for Ramona drew some positive feedback from members of the Ramona Community Planning Group at their May 2 meeting.
The proposal also garnered comments from two public speakers: one in favor and the other voicing concerns.
At the planning group’s April meeting, representatives for AMCAL presented preliminary plans for an affordable housing development on approximately four acres on the north side of Robertson Street at Pala Street behind Kmart, and sought comments from the planning group. Mario Turner, vice president of development for AMCAL, and architect Kevin Newman, chairman and managing partner of Newman Garrison + Partners, returned with more information about its property management and social services programs.
“This property is zoned for apartments. On a technical level it’s by right,” said Turner, explaining that if the developer meets the standards he can build it. However, Turner said they want to build a high quality development and receive the planning group’s blessing.
Turner and Newman reviewed development plans that would consist of 44 two-bedroom and 16 three-bedroom units in buildings with a California ranch or farmhouse architectural style, a clubhouse, green energy features, and pedestrian-friendly aspects with parking concealed behind the apartments and integrated walking trails. Newman said the concept would be geared to form-based codes.
The Ramona Village Design Group’s draft town core document to revitalize downtown focuses on form-based codes or custom tailored zoning, and is expected to be approved by the County Board of Supervisors by early fall.
Target renters for the AMCAL development would be people who work full time and earn up to $48,000 per year for a family of four.
“That’s a lot of folks here in Ramona, frankly, and that’s who we’re looking to serve,” said Turner.
He showed a list of occupations with salaries falling under $48,000, including cooks, office assistants, construction workers and dental assistants. Rents, based on a maximum of 30 percent of annual income, would range from about $544 to $1,100 for a two-bedroom, and $628 to $1,257 for a three bedroom. Turner showed pictures of some of AMCAL’s recent developments, including the Mission Apartments south of Mission Hills in San Diego, and Royale in Orange County.
Real Estate Agent Carol Fowler said low-income people need a place to live.
“I do have experience with affordable communities because I have a family member who lives in one,” Fowler said.
She touted the affordable housing in Carlsbad where her mother lives, saying, “It’s beautiful. It’s a great community.”
Fowler, who is vice chair of the Ramona Village Design Group, said the vision is to expand goods and services in the town core.
“As we grow as a community we need to have affordable housing. It’s a cog in the wheel. You cannot have a sustainable community without that cog,” she said.
But Susan Woolard, who said she is in the property management field, asked, “Why Ramona?”
Woolard said Ramona has a lot of low-income apartments that have drug problems and crime. She said she does not want Ramona to become like El Cajon.
“We already have the traffic, we have the crime, and we already have a lot of low-income apartments,” she said.
George Garcia, director of FPI, the property management company that works with AMCAL, said he has been in touch with the sheriff’s Ramona substation about its Crime Free Multi-Housing certification program. Caroline Epps with LifeSTEPS, a nonprofit that provides social services for AMCAL, said they set up active Neighborhood Watch programs.
Epps said the apartments would offer an after-school program to give children a safe environment that would help with academic and behavioral skills, and LifeSTEPS partners with teachers and the schools. She also said LifeSTEPS provides education classes to help residents make wise financial decisions, and coordinates potlucks and community events.
“LifeSTEPS and AMCAL are very committed to bringing residents together,” she said.
RCPG Secretary Kristi Mansolf and Chair Jim Piva said they liked the description of the LifeSTEPS program, although Piva said he still sees a need for more senior housing in Ramona, a sentiment echoed by member Dennis Sprong.
RCPG members Richard Tomlinson and Paul Stykel also said they supported the project as presented. When Stykel asked the timeline for construction, Turner said it would depend on receiving tax credit financing, but they could possibly break ground by November 2014.
Planner Matt Deskovick asked if the apartments would be restricted to families. Garcia said there is no restriction in age, as long as residents meet the income minimum or maximum, but there is usually an occupancy minimum.
Member Torry Brean said if Ramona has to have more affordable housing, he would prefer to see what AMCAL is offering, but he added that Ramona has a lack of jobs, virtually no public transportation and failing roads.
Although no vote was required by the RCPG, Turner asked if there was support to move forward. Piva said the group cannot vote on a concept but he polled the members with the majority saying they were in favor of it. Sprong, who had responded “no comment,” later told Piva that he believes the polling was unneeded and unprecedented.