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City council passes regs making accessory dwellings easier to build

They used to be called “granny flats,” but now the official name for them is “accessory dwelling units” or ADUs. They are the secondary housing that many people are adding to existing houses and renting them out to friends or family.

At the July 19 meeting of the Escondido City Council they updated the current ordinance on ADUs and brought it in line with state law that took effect in January that is intended to cut much of the red tape associated with such structures.

The council voted to amend “Article 70 (Second Dwelling Units) of the Escondido Zoning Code” to bring City regulations for second dwelling units into compliance with state law.

Bill Martin, the city’s community development director updated on the staff’s updating of the current ordinance, which has up until now allowed units of up to 640 square feet when attached to a primary residence.

Recent stage legislation “recognizes accessory dwelling units as important part of housing stock and lowers barriers to encourage more production,” said Martin. “Amendments to our local ordinance are required to bring it into compliance with new state regulations.”

The amendment also reflected public input and recommendations from the city’s Planning Commission, which voted 7-0 in favor. Input was taken at four public meetings. These hearings were of high interest to the public, Martin noted.

Before the amendment, the city had discretion about allowing ADUs, now state law requires the permit be ministerial; and while before there was no limit on how long the city could sit on such a request, now the permit must be considered within 120 days.

There are other requirements, such as the need to add off-street parking in some cases. Parking requirements can be waived if the unit is within a half mile of public transit, within the city’s Historical District, or near a ride sharing program.

One requirement that will remain is that owner occupancy is required. However, second dwelling units will be considered the same as a room addition when it comes to collecting more impact fees—in other words there won’t be additional fees.

Units of 500 SF or less will be allowed on lots of 10,000 SF, while a structure of up to 1,000 SF will be allowed on lots of 20,000 SF or greater.  In addition, the floor area of the ADU can’t be more than 50% of the existing living area of primary residence on site. At the four public meetings, some members of the public wanted even larger ADUs allowed.

Deputy Mayor John Masson asked why they didn’t go up to 1,200 SF.

Martin said that if they allowed much larger units they would approach the size of the original units in some areas, such as the Historical District.

Resident Roy Garrett spoke about the amendment and asked the council to not require owner occupancy.

“I object to the deed restriction. It would make it harder to get the loan because of the requirement that the owner live there. That deed restriction is a poison pill,” he said. “I don’t think you can get a loan and I don’t think that loan can be sold.” That’s going to devalue the value of the unit, he argued. “I think it limits the goal of the house, which is more housing for people who can’t afford it now.”

Mayor Sam Abed asked Martin if they were mainly meeting state requirements or being more flexible?

“We are meeting the state’s requirements,” said Martin. “We are presenting a legally defensible ordinance. In some instances, more flexible. It is legal and defensible in response to community needs.”

“We are doing this to accommodate family members,” said Abed. “This is a housing crisis created in part by the state. Regular developers need to meet certain mitigation process. These will not. We are increasing the number of residents. We have to be reasonable about this and look at it as a new real estate parcel. I’m happy with providing more housing opportunities, but I don’t want it to get out of hand and become a new money-making effort.”

Council member Mike Morasco declared, “I’m completely against the state mandates taking away decisions from our community, but I like that it’s legally defensible. I like that we are keeping it owner occupied. That’s a key component.” He said he would like to reconsider adding impact fees.

Masson said he was concerned about the point Garret brought up about lending. “I think there is some validity to that. But we don’t want this to turn into a bunch of investors. I’d like to see the 1,000 bumped to 1,200. I think it adds more value.”

Councilmember Ed Gallo said, “I think we have to agree that the state created this housing problem by being the most overregulated state in the nation. It’s all supply and demand.” He said that he too would like to look at adding impact fees for ADUs. “They will impact our streets and roads and they will impact our schools and roads. I don’t have a problem approving this but we will need to look at it.

Councilmember Olga Diaz said, “I’ll approve it as it is but it seems imperfect to me. I think Roy has some legitimate concerns.” She asked for the item to be brought back for review in a year. “We might want to consider impact fees.

Abed, said, “first we have to comply with the state and then fine tune it.”

Approved staff recommendation, 4-1, Masson voting no.

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