Council Approves 'Granny Flat' Amendments After Hours of Public Comment, Discussion

But is it ‘affordable housing’? Mayor Tornek, others, say ‘no’

Published : Tuesday, December 12, 2017 | 6:17 AM

City Council Meeting

Following a long public discussion and meeting that lasted until nearly midnight, Pasadena’s City Council Monday voted unanimously to approve two amendments to the City’s existing Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) regulations, regarding the minimum size of affected lots and the maximum size of the allowed new dwellings, popularly known as “Granny Flats.”

The new amendments on lot sizes and fees would affect only the construction of new ADUs. As a Planning Department report and recommendation noted, new ADUs would be allowed on single-family lots at least 7,200 square feet in size, and any ADUs built, regardless of lot size, would have to be smaller than the existing dwelling on the property. The maximum size of new ADUs would be 800 square feet.

The first of the two new amendments would further direct City staff to investigate the effect on RM-zoned properties. The new amendment would also investigate raising the maximum ADU size to 1,200 square feet on lots beginning at 10,000 to to a maximum 15,000 square-feet or larger. The amendment would also regulate the building of ADUs in historic districts, not allowing ADUs to be visible from the street.

The second of the two amendments would keep the current impact fees on ADUs with affordable rent covenants. Property owners with covenants currently receive a greatly reduced impact fee from the City — $957 as opposed to $19,000.

“As yet,” said Senior Planner David Sinclair, “none have been built, because of the prohibitive fees.”
Currently, any ADU in the city with an affordable rent covenant qualifies for a lower Impact Fee, and no Traffic Reduction fees.

Prompted by the September 2016 passage of State Assembly Bills 2299 and 1069, both of which became effective on January 1, the City approved two new laws affecting ADUs last January with an eye towards further refining sizes of the lots which would allow them.

The new State law would invalidate any California city’s existing second unit ordinances should they not comply with all of the requirements of the newly adopted state standards, thus prompting the Council vote and Monday’s hearing, essentially eliminating single-family housing zoning in every neighborhood in California.

Mayor Terry Tornek, and Councilmembers Steve Madison and Victor Gordo noted that the new amendments, designed with an eye towards increasing affordable housing, might also attract speculators who would buy single family homes, build ADUs, and then sell the properties at a profit, defeating the purpose.

“These won’t be affordable housing, I’m sorry,” lamented Mayor Tornek. “This will only increase the housing stock, and then we can hope that the increased supply will eventually lower rents, but we don’t know.”

“These will all be market rate apartments,” said resident Nina Chomsky. She also asked that the Council require rent covenants on new ADUs, as well as fees on builders.

“The State is basically doubling the density of our City,” said Councilmember Margaret McAustin during the council discussion. “We’re just trying to move and tweak and adjust what the State has handed down to our city.”

Continued McAustin, candidly, “In the past, we said we wanted second units, but we didn’t really want second units, and we made the threshold very, very high, so we wouldn’t get any. But now, things have changed, we want second units, and I think that the lot size that has been recommended is appropriate, but if we want second units, we can’t put a $20,000 impact fee on them.”

Attorney Dale Gronemeier, meanwhile, spoke out against large minimum lot sizes that would mean “only the wealthy get to build second units.”

The majority of public speakers were in favor of lower minimum lot sizes — from the current requirement of 15,000 square-feet minimum — and many of those wanted no size requirements at all, as many California cities currently allow.

Pasadena resident Phillip Burns presented a report which stated that ADUs have little actual detrimental effect on neighborhoods, as long as design standards are maintained, where necessary. According to Burns, the ADUs also have little effect on traffic.

Following comments from nearly 40 public speakers, Councilmember Gordo said, “State law has imposed on us an issue that we now have to clean up. The testimony that we have heard today is very compelling. But we do need to have some (rent and fee) covenants, because what we are really trying to do is increase affordable housing stock, and not penalize people. I also want to make sure that the speculators don’t come sweeping in, and buying single family homes, building ADUs with waived fees, and we are left without.”

Once enacted, the new ADU ordinances would be reviewed again in one year.

blog comments powered by Disqus