The trend towards remote work should help free up vacant office space for housing, but water is a barrier. | Local News

As the Covid-19 pandemic spreads across the United States, businesses continue to adapt, and at least one trend appears to be becoming permanent: Many employees will continue to work remotely.

This will likely further reduce local demand for office space, which, even before the pandemic, was already plentiful: Unlike housing, vacant office space has long been plentiful in almost every corner of the county.

That’s why, in June 2019, Monterey City Council voted 4-1 to rezone commercial properties along the south side of Garden Road so that they can be converted into multi-family residential units. By doing so, the city would have a better chance of meeting the state’s target of adding 650 housing units by 2023.

But given the chronic water shortage on the Monterey Peninsula, this plan faced a challenge from the start. Another branch of state government – the State Water Resources Control Board – has a concurrent mandate in the form of a cease-and-desist order that obliges California American Water, the peninsula’s water supplier, to to reduce and limit its use of the Carmel River water. Part of this ordinance states that in the event of a change in the use of an existing water meter, no increase in use is allowed.

This reality has prevented potential developers of the Garden Road residential properties from finalizing their plans in the hopes that the State Water Board will allow an exception to the ordinance.

It comes after the Monterey Peninsula Management District, after working on the proposal for more than a year in concert with local cities, submitted a request to the State Water Board on March 9, asking that the district be allowed to allocate 75 acre-feet of water each year at local projects that include affordable housing.

“This is a real amount of de minimis water that shouldn’t drastically affect the order, but it would allow a developer to make that commitment today and remove that uncertainty,” said Dave Stoldt, director general of MPWMD. By the time the increase in use takes effect, he adds, new water projects may already be completed and the order lifted.

But so far, the district has had no news from the state, and Jackie Carpenter, a spokesperson for the State Water Board, said the agency could not comment on the matter because it would ultimately be decided by the advice.

Meanwhile, developer Brad Slama, who owns three of the commercial properties on Garden Road and plans to convert them into housing, said that unless there are additional water guarantees for affordable housing, it will reduce the number of housing units it offers.

One example he cites, a former gymnasium at 2000 Garden Road, will be reduced from a potential 101 housing units to 59, unless there is a promise of more water credits by now. the end of the year. “Some projects will have to go ahead only with the water credits we have on site, because it takes too long,” says Slama. “I lose money every month they idle, and I can only do it for so long.”

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