The Highland City Council on June 11 approved a new ordinance eliminating a previous restrictions on accessory dwelling units or so-called granny flats, substituting in new ones that to some degree liberalize rules, regulations and codes relating to permitting a secondary structure on existing residential parcels.
In essence, the change brings the city into compliance with recent state legislation intended to facilitate the provision of housing to redress California’s housing shortage.
With Mayor Penny Lilburn in opposition the item passed 4-1
In October 2017, Senate Bill 229 and Assembly Bill 494 were passed by the legislature and signed into law by then-Governor Jerry Brown, going into effect on January 1, 2018.
The legislature’s rational for easing requirements for accessory dwelling units was to give homeowners the flexibility to share independent living areas with family members and others, allowing senior citizens to age in place as they require more care and helping extended families to be near one another while maintaining privacy. Relaxed regulations and the cost to build an accessory dwelling unit make it feasible and affordable housing option for such purposes, according to the legislature. The state law also was intended to make it so that accessory dwelling units could provide property owners a way to supplement their incomes by renting the units while being able to serve different populations ranging from students and young professionals to young families, people with disabilities and senior citizens.
Senate Bill 229 and Assembly Bill 494 were in conflict with the City of Highland’s previously existing ordinance pertaining to second dwelling units on residential lots. In essence, the new laws rendered the city’s existing ordinance inapplicable. Cities yet had the authority to regulate, within certain parameters, granny flats, but could not ban them outright.
City Attorney Maricela Marroquin said, “When this law took effect it voided existing ADU ordinances that do not comply with the new state law. We essentially have no regulations until we put something into effect.”
The city’s newly adopted ordinance conforms with Senate Bill 229 and Assembly Bill 494, such that the accessory dwellings can be both attached or unattached from the primary residence, can exist as garage conversions, and can be as small as 150 square feet and as large as 1,200 square feet up to 50 percent of the size of the primary dwelling. These units must have a kitchen, bathroom, sleeping space and a separate entrance. The addition of one parking space is required unless the unit is within half a mile from public transportation.
Roughly 20 percent of the city’s residential properties are a half-mile distant of the city’s bus stops, according to Associate Planner TomThornsley. The parking must be on an improved surface; parking on dirt or the lawn or on the public street is not permitted, according to Community Development Director Lawrence Mainez.
The city’s leadership previously deemed the proliferation of granny flats as undesirable, based on their potential to crowd existing neighborhoods beyond their intended density and negatively impact the quality of life in the city.
It was clear, based on the vote of Lilburn and statements made by Councilman John Timmer, that a significant portion of the city’s leadership is conceptually opposed to permitting accessory dwelling units to proliferate in the city, and were making the changes only as a concession to the change in state law.
The change in the city’s regulations is unlikely to result in a mad rush to build granny flats, given the hoops that proponents of such projects will yet need to jump through to obtain clearance to proceed.
Without the city redrafting the ordinance, according to City Manager Joseph Hughes, “Somebody could come in right now and do one of these units.”
The city’s ordinance will now require that if a granny flat is built, it will be done so in compliance with the city’s “code requirements for such things as minimum lot size, building setbacks, unit size, parking, general plan consistency, and lot coverage,” according to a report to the city council from Mainez that was reviewed by Assistant Community Development Director Kim Stater and prepared by Thornseley.
Timmer said that “We currently are living under the state ordinance” and that the city was redrafting the no-longer-applicable ordinance to provide for “tighter regulations to better protect our city. We’re still doing what the state is saying,” he said, but utilizing the leeway in the state law to layer in reasonable requirements under the aegis of the city’s codes.
Until the state law went into effect, the impact fees applicants were required to pay along with other regulations dissuaded many of those who were contemplating accessory dwelling units. Two granny flats were built in the city over the past year. Under the new ordinance, applicants will yet be required to foot the cost of development impact fees, meet all standards with regard to the livability of the dwelling unit to be created, and be subject to code enforcement inspection and compliance with all applicable codes.
The ordinance further requires that such accessory units be constructed on a lot whereon the property owner resides, thus disallowing a property owner to use the liberalization in the state law to engage in absentee landlording.
At the recommendation of the planning commission the ordinance was drawn to include a provision prohibiting the units from being rented for any period less than 30 days.
The ordinance defines an accessory dwelling unit as “an attached or a detached residential dwelling unit which provides complete independent living facilities for one or more persons, with permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking and sanitation needs sited on the same parcel as the primary dwelling unit.”
According to the new ordinance, an attached unit must have a separate entrance and they must meet setbacks requirements under the city’s code and conform to the current development standards for setbacks and lot coverage for the zoning district within which they are located.
If the unit is to consist of a garage conversion, under state law a replacement garage cannot be required. The units cannot be sold separate from the primary dwelling unit.
Under the city’s new regulations, only an owner-occupant of the primary dwelling unit is eligible to file an application for an accessory dwelling unit. An application for a permit to create an accessory dwelling unit shall be approved or disapproved ministerially without discretionary review within 120 days after the application is received.
Accessory dwelling units cannot be built higher than a single story to a maximum of 16 feet. Attached units cannot be higher than the main unit. A unit, however, can be constructed over an existing garage which is attached to a two story dwelling.
Granny flats must match the design of the primary dwelling unit and the surrounding neighborhood in terms of height, mass, landscaping, and architectural materials.
All fees that are applied to new residential units are applicable to accessory dwelling units.