In 2002, the California legislature passed a law requiring cities to allow construction of “granny flats,” small apartments built as attached or detached additions to single-family homes.
The idea was to promote more affordable rental housing in existing residential neighborhoods and allow more room for extended families that wanted to stay together.
But then-Mayor Dick Murphy, concerned about neighborhoods becoming too dense, disliked the idea and led the San Diego City Council to approve restrictions that made it nearly impossible to actually build granny flats in the city. To get a building permit, for example, a person’s property had to be at least twice as large as the size of a typical single-family home parcel, effectively ruling out granny flats in many core neighborhoods because most parcels are not much larger than the minimum required size.
But a law change approved by the city’s Planning Commission last week would eliminate many of the restrictions if it’s ultimately approved by the City Council, making it easier for property-owners in many city neighborhoods to build granny flats as large as 700 square feet.
The proposed change is one among dozens the city’s Development Services Department is proposing as it updates its zoning laws.
The amendments would remove the double lot size requirement, and also allow a granny flat — formally known as a companion unit — to be built at the same time as a primary residence, which is not currently allowed. It would leave in place some rules, like a requirement that one off-street parking space be available for each bedroom in the unit.
At the Planning Commission’s Thursday meeting, commission Chairman Eric Naslund said the restrictions implemented under Murphy were “just crazy.”
“The notion of a companion unit is essentially to sort of create these situations for extended families, rentals, and so on,” he said. He added that the double-lot size requirement made no sense, because at that point a property owner would be allowed to subdivide a parcel and build a second house.
City planners believe the law change would benefit low-income residential neighborhoods like Barrio Logan where extended families often live together, and could help satisfy the neighborhood’s need for affordable housing.
Several members of the public, including development consultants and architects, told the Planning Commission they supported the law changes Thursday.
But others, including representatives from the College Area near San Diego State University, opposed them, citing concerns about higher density in single-family neighborhoods. Homeowners in the College Area have long been opposed to similar housing arrangements called mini dorms, which cater to SDSU students.
The Planning Commission voted 5-0 to recommend the code amendments to the City Council, which will soon take the proposed changes under consideration.
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