City Council Rejects Proposed "Granny Flats" Regulations

Motion directs city staff to make additional changes to proposed amendments

Published : Tuesday, June 20, 2017 | 5:49 AM

It’s back to the drawing board for the City’s proposed new amendments to its regulations on existing accessory dwelling units (ADU) – also popularly known as “granny flats.”

Following a three-hour long public comment session that one speaker described as “a huge, huge night” that “changes the direction of the City forever,” the City Council unanimously approved a motion by Councilmember Margaret McAustin to send the amendments back to staff yet again, to put into place modifications.

The final vote followed a motion by Councilmember John Kennedy to accept the recommendations with only a minimal change. That motion did not receive a second.

The Council was considering two additional changes to the existing package of regulations: That the minimum lot size requirement applicable to accessory dwelling units created by adding new square footage be lowered to 5,000 square feet; and the requirement that the size of detached accessory dwelling units be smaller than the existing primary dwelling.

The new ordinance language would also clearly state that standards applicable to accessory dwelling units located within Landmark Overlay Districts would also be applied to accessory dwelling units located within National Register Districts, and that standards applicable to original windows and doors for accessory dwelling units located within historic districts and individually designated properties are also applied to non-original windows and doors that previously replaced original windows and doors with an approval of a Certificate of Appropriateness.

New laws regulating accessory dwelling units went into effect late last year, and the new regulations would be part of bringing local regulations into compliance with the State. The two State Bills— AB 2299 and SB 1069—would limit the ability of local municipalities to regulate such units.

The laws also mandate that local accessory dwelling unit ordinances are invalidated if not in full compliance with the requirements of the amended State Law; and that Accessory dwelling units created by converting existing space, or “Interior Accessory Dwelling Units,” must be allowed in all single-family zoning districts without any restriction.

Therefore, cities have no ability to limit where Interior Accessory Dwelling Units can be constructed, and no standard that may prevent one’s ability to create such unit can be required. According to the City staff report, State Law still authorizes local municipalities to adopt additional restrictions only as long as the additional restrictions do not conflict with the regulations established in the State Law.

But the discussion on Monday evening was far more basic: Is it fair to allow only those who can afford a 15,000 square foot lot to be able to build a new accessory unit? A number of speakers, particularly affordable housing advocates, argued that owners of considerably smaller lots—only 5,000 square feet in size—should also be allowed to build as well.

Some residents argued that more dwellings means more parked cars, a particular problem on narrow streets.

“Narrow streets are already a problem,” said Allendale resident Nina Chomsky.

Chomsky also added that building dwellings in limited spaces would necessitate the removal of trees, “affecting the urban forestry.”

Said Madison Heights resident Erica Foy, “This is against neighborhood character. It’s counterintuitive to the plans in landmark districts.”

Housing advocate Jill Shook countered that a 5,000 square foot minimum is “more fair, just as they allow in Los Angeles and other cities. Only rich people can afford larger spaces.” Resident Elsa Rodriguez agreed, saying “A city that is good for its kids is a city that promises a roof over their heads.”

Councilmember Gordo also rejected the idea of allowing a 5,000 square foot threshold, saying it would create too much density and “put in jeopardy the fabric of our neighborhoods.”

Following Kennedy’s rejected motion, a compromise that would have allowed 7200 square foot lots to accept new ACUs, McAustin said “we must find a way to protect our neighborhoods,” and proposed a motion that the city re-examine the ordinance with regard to landmark districts to “insure integrity,” develop some type of residential impact fees, such as are required of developers and hotels, and “reward” those who protect tree canopies in their construction of ADUs. She also asked the staff to look at the impact of ADUs and increased density on narrow streets.

Tuesday, McAustin also said “I support relaxing the 15,000sf minimum lot size that has been in place for way too long.  We need to bring the lot size down to a reasonable level that will allow the construction of ADU’s for those who want them while addressing the impacts on our neighborhoods, our Landmark Districts, our tree canopy and our parks.”

Regardless of the final outcome of the proposed new regulations, both Mayor Tornek and Councilmember Kennedy were of the opinion that new ADUs would not have a major impact on either the City’s neighborhood character, nor would they solve the City’s affordable housing shortage.

“It’s not going to happen tonight,” said Mayor Tornek, “and if we don’t treat this issue carefully, it might not happen at all.”

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