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January 13, 2016

Richmond City Council approves affordable housing complex on Central Avenue

By Sarah Tan
Posted:   01/12/2016 08:49:55 PM PST | Updated:   25 min. ago

RICHMOND -- Richmond City Council members approved a plan Tuesday to build a 155-unit, five-story affordable housing complex at 5620 Central Avenue, near the border of El Cerrito and Richmond.

The project site is on the former Dolan Lumber property near Belmont Avenue and San Mateo Street near the Richmond Annex neighborhood. Despite some concern from community members about the added density and traffic in the area, as well as the increased potential for flooding from a creek at the edge of the property onto Belmont Ave., the motion passed, with only councilmember Eduardo Martinez voting against the proposal, and Jovanka Beckles abstaining.

"This City Council has spent a lot of time talking about the need for affordable housing, and I think we all agree we need more of that, even if we disagree on how to get there, and this is an affordable housing project," Mayor Tom Butt said.

The project, which the council officially approved in a closed session in late November, had been in limbo since its initial proposal and conditional approval in February 2015.

Last year, the city's Planning Commission approved the project, pending certain changes that required the building be set back farther from Central Avenue, and that a creek on the edge of the property be revitalized. The developer then came back with a lawsuit against the city, alleging that the changes violated a housing density ordinance, and the city settled.

Community members took issue with the fact that they still worried about flooding in the area that might be worsened by construction on the site, and that a complex in the area was approved in closed session.

"If you raise the parking level of the project, all that water will be forced toward Belmont," Fernando Meriscal said. His property lies on the east side of the creek.

Residents of Richmond Annex also complained that they had not been kept aware that a settlement had been made behind closed doors, though it is not city policy to allow for public comment in settlements. Had the City Council not approved this project, the city might have been liable for another lawsuit from the developer.

Next, the project will go before the city's Design Review Board, which will sign off on the requirements of the complex, including final approval of the building's setbacks from Central Avenue and from the nearby creek.

Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin added an amendment and asked that the city Planning Department alert neighborhood residents when the project would go before the Review Board, which will happen later this month.

"If you vote to approve this agreement, you'll be going against the neighborhood, you'll be approving an outside developer's excessive requirements," said Dave Harris, a member of the Richmond Annex Neighborhood Council.

Sarah Tan covers Richmond. Contact her at 510-262-2789. Follow her @sarahjtan.