Condominium Halt May Continue

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Hollister
– The City Council is considering a 10-month extension to its
temporary moratorium on apartment-to-condominium conversions.
Hollister – The City Council is considering a 10-month extension to its temporary moratorium on apartment-to-condominium conversions.

The city will not issue any permits or approvals for condo conversions until the moratorium is lifted. The existing conversion halt is scheduled to end on March 28, but if the council approves the extension, it could last until Feb. 8, 2008.

City Manager Clint Quilter said the moratorium isn’t likely to last that long.

“We want to resolve it sooner than that,” he said.

The City Council first approved the moratorium on Feb. 20 after councilmembers and staffers became concerned that conversions of apartments to condominiums – the conversions of 44 units were approved between Nov. 16, 2006, and Jan. 25, 2007 – threatened the city’s already limited rental stock.

The moratorium should preserve the status quo while the council develops long-term solutions, Quilter said. Once the council has a plan, the moratorium will be lifted.

Developer Lee Schmidt said he’s of two minds about the issue. Schmidt, whose Morgan Hill-based County Property Exchange recently completed a commercial condo development in Hollister, said property rights need to be protected, but he also acknowledged that there’s a need for affordable rental housing.

Schmidt said he’d support a policy similar to Watsonville’s. When Schmidt tried to initiate a condo conversion, he was told that conversions had been halted until the city’s vacancy rate went up.

“That concept made sense,” Schmidt said.

Even taking property rights out of the equation, conversions are still a complicated issue, Quilter said. After all, condos themselves are a kind of affordable housing, since they allow people who can’t afford single-family homes to purchase a place of their own.

In february, the median price for homes sold in San Benito County was $600,000.

“It’s pretty complicated, and the council is going to have to balance those two things,” Quilter said.

Councilwoman Pauline Valdivia said the city definitely needs more time to study the issue. Valdivia said she’s concerned about the effect the conversions could have on low-income residents.

“There are a lot of people living on a fixed income who aren’t making it, or who are just barely managing,” she said.

When the council passed the initial moratorium, the planning department was required to prepare a report on the city’s rental shortage and what the city government had done to fix the problem.

The report has been completed, and it notes that the council has awarded allocations for 312 rental units that are on hold due to Hollister’s sewer hookup moratorium. The report also cites a number of elements in the city’s recently revised general plan that promote affordable rental housing.

According to the report, a desirable vacancy rate is around 5 to 6 percent. The city’s vacancy rate is 2.1 percent.

Vacancy rates are even lower at Creekbridge Apartments, according to manager Mario Loya. All 40 units are filled, and there’s a six-person waiting list. Loya said there are no plans to convert the apartments to condos. However, some of his residents have expressed interest in purchasing a condo if the apartments ever are converted.

The council will vote on the extension at Monday’s meeting. Councilmembers will also consider increasing garbage rates by about $1 month; the rate increase was discussed at the last meeting, but councilmembers said they needed more information.

Anthony Ha covers local government for the Free Lance. Reach him at 831-637-5566 ext. 330 or [email protected]

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