By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
A proposal to convert 15 studio apartments, which have served low-income seniors for 30 years, to market-rate housing was approved Wednesday by the Planning Commission, marking another loss for Downtown Laguna Beach’s affordable housing stock.
Henry Haimsohn, of La Jolla, and Ronald Gerber, of San Diego, argued the 55 parking spaces at their mixed-used building at 310-312 Broadway Street would sufficiently accommodate future residents and customers at Chase Bank and Time Defiance Fitness. When the property was developed in 1985, the City Council agreed to give parking variances in exchange for a commitment that the studios be rented as Section 8 housing for people who were at least 62 years old.
Attorney Larry Nokes, who represented the building’s owners at the Planning Commission meeting, said the owners have been working to find new homes for their tenants for the past year and relocated all but one tenant as of Wednesday.
Planning Commissioner Jorg Dubin thanked Haimsohn and Gerber for providing low-income housing to Laguna Beach’s seniors for three decades.
“I may need that someday myself if I live long enough,” he said. “There’s an interesting balance between property rights and providing these kinds of places, and the owners have done their fair share.”
Dubin initially questioned whether the conversion to market-rate housing would create additional demand for housing because many of the studios’ former elderly residents didn’t drive. Nokes said this was unlikely because a full-time caretaker or family member was also allowed to live in the units under the terms of the coastal development permit.
Planning Commissioner Susan McLintock Whitin said she sees a trend of more downtown property owners moving toward a trend of shared parking programs like the one approved Wednesday to accommodate new commercial or residential uses. She added that once future residents park at 310-312 Broadway, they’ll likely walk to restaurants and other businesses.
“This, unfortunately, removes senior housing from the housing pool,” she said. “We need more housing downtown.”