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Santa Barbara Council Starts Crafting Ordinance for ‘Granny Units’

 

More housing units are coming to Santa Barbara's neighborhoods.

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday took the first steps toward creating rules for a wave of “accessory dwelling units” proposed for the city.

A new state law is forcing local governments to allow homeowners to build so-called "granny units" as a way to ease California’s affordable-housing crisis.

The city has received nearly 200 applications since the beginning of 2017.

About one-quarter of the applications are seeking approval for granny units that were already converted before the new law went into place. The council voted unanimously to initiate an ADU ordinance, but much of the details still need to be worked out by the city Planning Commission and planning staff.

The flood of applications has city planners overwhelmed and overworked.

Property owners, planning consultants and architects are in wide support of the new law because of the financial benefits it brings, but some neighborhood activists are concerned that more housing will ruin the character of the neighborhoods.

“Embrace the opportunity that is in front of us,” said architect Paul Zink. “We need housing for people who live in Santa Barbara and who work in Santa Barbara and this is what this is all about.”

However, homeowner Sarah Griffin expressed opposition.

“I am fully aware of the extreme difficulty of finding affordable housing,” Griffin said. “I am concerned that the character of our neighborhoods will be forever changed with these units. These units will change the character of our neighborhoods.”

Although the city cannot stop the approval of ADUs, it can set parameters. The city is currently looking an ordinance that allows ADUS in all residential zones, on lots that are a minimum of 5,000 square feet.

If the unit is attached to the primary structure, it cannot exceed 600 feet, or 50 percent of the existing unit. If it is detached, the maximum would be 1,200 square feet.

The property owners only have to provide one off-street parking space per ADU, but no parking would be required if the unit is within a half-mile of public transit.

“That essentially blankets most of the city,” said city planner Renee Brooke.

The parking requirement is also waived if the ADU is in a historically or architecturally significant neighborhood or if there’s a car-share station nearby.

The city is also trying to decide whether the ADUs need to be owner-occupied and if the units must be rented out for at least 30 consecutive days, to avoid the units from being turned into vacation rentals.

Neighborhood activist Anna Marie Gott urged the council to ensure that the units do not become vacation rentals and that homeowners don’t apply for ADUs without the intent of renting the units out, just create larger homes.

“This is actually a great opportunity to ensure that we are going to get some affordable housing out of it,” Gott said. “You cannot stop it so let’s try to get the best housing we can that is going to benefit the community.”

The planners, architects and consultants in the room asked the city to allow ADUs larger than 600 feet, and instead use a liding scale based on lot size.

“I urge you to resist over-regulating of these units,” said Suzanne Elledge, who owns her own planning and permitting services firm. “This has the potential to meaningfully address the housing needs of our citizens. It’s obvious there is a strong demand for ADUs in our city.”

Realtor Reyne Stapelmann called the new state law “a gift.”

“Santa Barbara has a housing crisis; there is a lack of affordable rental housing,” she said.

Councilman Randy Rowse was the most resistant to the ADU law.

“It is important that we don’t change Santa Barbara,” Rowse said. “Not everyone wants to live in a denser neighborhood.”

Even though Staplemann called the new law a gift, Rowse said it was no gift at all

“You just get this thing laid in your lap and you have to deal with it,” he said.

Rowse also disputed the idea that the off-street parking requirement would be waived if the units were a half-mile away from transit.

“Too many people watched “The Jetsons” growing up,” Rowse said. “I don’t think cars are automatically going away. Cars can’t be completely discounted out of the formula just yet.”

He also questioned whether they would really be solving the city’s affordable housing crisis.

“Affordable is usually by covenant or subsidy,” Rowse said. “We have a lot of it in this town. I don’t have any illusion that this is going to be affordable housing.”

Councilman Hotchkiss agreed: “A lot of them will be nice, and they will be expensive, and that’s the way the market is,” Hotchkiss said.

Councilman Gregg Hart agreed that it was unfortunate that the state was forcing cities to allow granny units, but that in reality, it was long overdue.

“Local governments haven’t stepped up in addressing the housing crisis and that is why they did it,” Hart said.

Hart said that the property owners looking to build ADUs should also live at the site to avoid a vacation rental scenario.

“That will be a nightmare to enforce and that is just a problem with people who are willing to cheat,” Hart said.

He said the state is likely going to do more in the coming years to require cities to build housing units.

“I don’t think we are done with this issue," Hart said. “It is going to be difficult to react to the state Legislature.”

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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