188-unit rental housing project in early planning stage; would include housing for moderate-income residents

As currently planned, the development would be built on a large part of the Art Colony site in northern Palm Springs off West Racquet Club Road. The land previously held a shopping center.
A preliminary site map shows how a development containing 188 rental units might be situated on 12.4 acres that used to hold a shopping center.

Developers targeting a 12.4-acre parcel near the entrance to the city that would help meet a critical housing need are offering a benefit that most builders in Palm Springs rarely, if ever, offer.

McKellar McGowan Holdings hopes to build 140 townhomes and 48 apartments on a large part of the Art Colony site off Racquet Club Road bordered by North Palm Canyon and Indian Canyon drives. The land previously held a shopping center, but is now empty, with a Del Taco standing on an adjacent parcel. All 188 units will be rented, providing one more option for those with no interest, or no ability, to purchase a home in the city.

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The proposal comes with a unique twist. While no city rules currently state any of the units need to be offered at below market rate, plans discussed with the Palm Springs Planning Commission Wednesday evening state 20 of the units will be made available at rates deemed affordable for residents with moderate incomes.

While that’s much less than the 107 units of moderate-income housing city staff estimate could fit on the land, commissioners who discussed the project Wednesday agreed it beats the alternative. Without requirements for developers to construct affordable housing as part of their projects, they don’t.

Discussion of the project was part of a Planning Commission study session that began with a two-hour presentation and accompanying dialogue around inclusionary housing policies and commercial linkage fees. If either or both were eventually put into place, developers of new housing projects would be required to either price some units below market rate or help fund affordable housing projects offsite.

In Palm Springs, like elsewhere in California, the need for affordable housing is critical. To meet the potential demand of future residents, city officials need to plan for 2,557 units of affordable housing through 2029, including 545 very-low-income units, 408 low-income units, 461 moderate-income units and 1,143 above-moderate-income units.

That planning comes at a time when large plots of land — such as those used for the Miralon and Escena developments — are becoming harder to find.

A rendering of what townhomes would look like on some of the 12.4 acres that used to contain a shopping center in the northern part of Palm Springs.

“If it’s really rental housing I think this is something I’m glad to see,” said Commission Chair Kathy Weremiuk. “I’m disappointed we can’t do more. I wish the state was providing resources for moderate-income housing. Having the market only able to build luxury housing is really what has been going on in California for 20 years or more.”

Until and unless more resources arrive from Sacramento, or market conditions change, the idea of somebody willing to build more rental units in the city was viewed as a glimmer of hope by most commissioners present Wednesday evening. They voiced support for the project and a willingness to work with the developer should the project move from pre-planning to the permit process.

“I’m seeing this as the glass half full,” said Commissioner Michael Hirschbein during discussions with city staff and a company working with the potential builder. “This is the first time a developer has come to us and said I want to do moderate housing. …I’d be excited to say I participated in providing 20 moderate-income housing units to the city.”


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