Monday, January 22 , 2018, 3:24 pm | Fair 62º


Local News

Santa Barbara Inundated With Granny Unit Applications as City Develops Local Regulations

The city of Santa Barbara has received 153 applications for accessory dwelling units since the state of California legalized so-called “granny units” on Jan. 1.

The sheer number of applications, with a concentration in the Lower Riviera, Upper East, and San Roque neighborhoods, has overwhelmed city staff members, who are scrambling to respond to the permit requests while maintaining their normal planning workload.

“The initial influx of these permit applications in the spring created a backlog that we are still recovering from,” City Planner Renee Brooke said.

Brooke said she has assigned one of her two zoning plan examiners to work almost exclusively on ADU projects.

The city only permitted 16 accessory dwelling units between 1993 and 2016, largely because of the cost and restrictions the city put on where and how they could be built.

The new law has also rippled through the architecture and contractor communities.

More than 200 people gathered at the downtown New Vic Theater Friday to talk about the impact of the ADU challenges in the community. According to the state law, homeowners don’t have to add off-street parking to add a secondary unit.

Sen. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, one of the authors of the bill legalizing the units, spoke at the event.

“The goal was to return the power back to the homeowner,” Wieckowski said. “The power should be with the homeowner to do whatever he or she wants to do.

“We had a housing crisis in the 1980s. This is not something new. It’s like droughts in California, we’re used to having these problems, but we really never put the pedal on the metal to say ‘let’s give the authority back to the individuals and take it away from the cities.’”

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation that legalized accessory dwelling units in an attempt to create more affordable housing options across the state.

The state’s housing production is not keeping pace with demand, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

A lack of development overall has weakened supply and worsened affordability, the state agency said in a reporting outlining the need for more housing units.

Brown determined that one way to attempt to meet the housing demand was to allow homeowners to add secondary units, a relatively quicker and less expensive process than developers building large housing projects.

Santa Barbara, however, is weighing the benefit of increasing housing options with the impact on the neighborhoods, including parking.

Although the state ordered local governments to legalize granny units, cities and counties still have the power to regulate construction. 

The state law allows local agencies to impose standards that include, but are not limited to, parking, height, setback, lot coverage, landscape, ministerial architectural review, maximum size of a unit, and standards that “prevent adverse impacts to designated historic structures.”

The city is currently working on an ordinance regulating ADUs and is planning to take the issue to the Planning Commission on Sept. 7.

Wieckowski said that cities should stop fighting accessory dwelling units and instead embrace them.

“Let’s encourage folks to actually build these units and build them with a superior architectural design, a superior floor plan,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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