LAFAYETTE -- In a bid to meet a looming state deadline, the city is charging ahead with updating a document that shows how Lafayette plans to accommodate future housing for all income levels.

The City Council initiated this week the fifth update of that plan, Lafayette's "housing element." In addition to surveying housing needs and projected population and other growth during an eight-year period beginning Jan. 31, 2015, the plan will show how the city plans to accommodate those needs through zoning.

A state-required portion of the city's general plan, the housing element must demonstrate how Lafayette will make land available for the development of future housing. During the fifth cycle, ending on Jan. 31, 2023, the city is required to show it can accommodate 400 additional units of very low-, low-, moderate- and above moderate-income housing as prescribed in the "regional housing needs allocation," or RHNA, overseen by the Association of Bay Area Governments. The city is not required to build the housing, only to plan how to accommodate it.

As part of the approval, city staffers will draw up guidelines that could give developers certain breaks based on the percentage of affordable homes in a project.

If adopted, the "density bonus ordinance" would allow the city to undergo a streamlined review of the housing element, which consultant Diana Elrod said would cut down on the "back and forth" between the state and the city. Lafayette currently follows state density bonus law by resolution, and grants density bonuses on a case-by-case basis.

During a discussion Monday, Mayor Don Tatzin suggested possible concessions could include making a change to the public art requirement for a new development or granting fee waivers. Variances to building height -- a sensitive topic for many Lafayette residents -- would probably not be high on the council's priority list, Tatzin said.

"I sense the idea of doing a density bonus ordinance is that you could become more specific about what concessions you'll grant," he said.

Following the council's decision, city staffers will head to the planning commission March 17 to brief them on the update. Senior planner Lindy Chan told the council the city will schedule three public workshops in April and May.

According to Chan, the workshops will address different topics for which the public can provide input. The first workshop will focus on what a housing element is and why it's required, as well as the repercussions of not having it certified by state. Staffers will also tackle the pros and cons of the density bonus ordinance.

A second meeting will explore a required inventory of land zoned at certain densities to meet the regional housing needs allocation, as well as second or "in-law" units that could help fulfill those requirements.

The final workshop will cover policies and programs to be incorporated into the element.

The city hopes to adopt the housing element update in December and submit it to HCD for certification by the Jan. 30, 2015 deadline.

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