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Santa Barbara Planning Commission Wrestles with Accessory Dwelling Unit Regulations

Santa Barbara is wrestling with how to regulate accessory dwelling units, and the city’s Planning Commission held a meeting earlier this month to get public feedback on the proposed ordinance.

In response to California’s housing crisis, the state in 2016 made accessory dwelling units legal, regardless of whether local jurisdictions had rules allowing or prohibiting them.

Santa Barbara and other cities are now crafting their own ordinances. Although cities can’t ban accessory dwelling units, they can adopt restrictions, including where they are allowed, and the size and the height of ADUs. 

Santa Barbara's proposed ordinance would allow ADUs in single family and duplex zones, but not multi-family apartment zones or high-fire hazard zones.

The homeowners must also live at the homes with the granny units.

The minimum lot size proposed for an ADU is 5,000 square feet. The maximum floor area for a new detached unit would be 600 square feet, and, if attached, not more than 50 percent of the primary residence floor area.

The state's legislation was designed to open up housing opportunities for seniors, extended family members and working class individuals, while providing a homeowner additional income to stay in their homes and pay their mortgages.

Since the state law went into effect in January of 2017, the city has received 170 new applications for accessory dwelling units. In the 20 years prior, the city only received 34 applications. 

Further complicating matters are Senate Bill 229 and Assembly Bill 494, which outline further rules for ADUs and are being considered by the state legislature.  

The local ordinance has several steps before getting approval, with review by the Single Family Design Board, Ordinance Committee and City Council. From there, the State Department of Housing and Community Development and the California Coastal Commission must certify the plan.

During the Sept. 7 meeting, some of the Planning Commissioners talked about wanting a sliding scale, based on the size of the lot, to determine how big the accessory dwelling unit could be, but not exceeding 1,200 square feet. 

“We’re missing the boat if we can’t get some two bedroom units in there, because we don’t have a ladder in this town for young people and young families to stay,” Planning Commissioner John Campanella said.

Many members of the public who commented during the Planning Commission meeting urged the board to slow down the ordinance process. 

“We need more community input,” architect Paul Zink said. “We need more community involvement.”

Planning Commissioner Deborah Schwartz agreed, citing the two bills currently in the legislature. 

“I don’t know why we need to rush this,” Schwartz said. 

Suzanne Elledge, a land-use planner, supports the state's goal and urged the commission to include homes in high-fire hazard zones, such as the Riviera. Not all homes in those zones are served by narrow roads, she said. 

“Statewide this is an opportunity to make a dent in the city's housing crisis and locally I believe it has the potential to address the housing needs of our own citizens,”​ Elledge said.

“It is our duty to embrace this legislation and pass a local ordinance that fully effectuates the intent of the state.”

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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