SAN DIEGO —
San Diego’s raging battle over granny-flat regulations is headed for a conclusion this winter that seems likely to leave community leaders and resident groups frustrated.
Their goal is preserving community and neighborhood character by rolling back some year-old policy changes that have made San Diego’s granny-flat rules among the least restrictive in California.
But the potential for granny flats to help solve the local housing crisis has prompted city planning officials to reject any significant rollbacks.
Instead, they are proposing only modest adjustments to regulations governing granny flats, which are also sometimes called casitas or the city’s formal name for them: accessory dwelling units.
Those modest adjustments were unanimously endorsed last week by the city’s Planning Commission, which had expressed support for more aggressive rollbacks before being persuaded to retreat by city officials.
That change of heart came despite the Community Planners Committee, an umbrella group of neighborhoods leaders from across the city, endorsing a comprehensive set of rollbacks proposed by resident group Neighbors for a Better San Diego.
The residents are proposing parking restrictions, increases in fees paid by granny-flat developers and changes to a city incentive that allows construction of “bonus” granny flats.
They also want developers to be required to provide more trees on properties where they build granny flats, and they want requirements for more space between new granny flats and property lines.
In addition, they want city officials to prohibit granny flats in areas with high fire risk and to tighten the definition of a “transit priority area” because granny flats in those areas face much looser rules.
City planning officials have embraced only the fee increases, tree requirements and additional space between granny flats and property lines. And the city’s proposals in those areas are less aggressive than the residents have requested.
But city officials are proposing to prohibit property owners from simultaneously taking advantage of granny flat incentives and a new state law — SB9 — that requires cities to allow up to four dwellings on many single-family lots.
Such a prohibition has been a high priority for Neighbors for a Better San Diego, a well-organized lobbying group that sprang from resident outcry against granny flats in Kensington and Talmadge.
The modest rollbacks endorsed by the Planning Commission are scheduled for debate in January by the City Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee, and then for possible approval in February by the City Council.
The proposed rollbacks are based partly on granny flat regulation changes unveiled last summer by Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, whose district includes the neighborhoods most loudly opposed to the looser rules.
Planning Commissioners said they empathize with the residents on many issues.
“I think a lot of the points that have been made by Neighbors for a Better San Diego are very valid,” Commissioner James Whalen said.
But Commissioner Kelly Moden said granny flats have too much potential to help solve the local housing shortage for the city to potentially stifle construction.
“This is a fantastic tool for multi-generational living and to increase our housing stock to reduce rental prices in the long term — and home prices,” she said.
Commissioner Matthew Boomhower said he also agrees with many of the concerns expressed by residents, but he added that he is leery of any proposals that seem like a “not in my back yard” sentiment.
Geoff Hueter, chairman of Neighbors for a Better San Diego, said his group is not against all granny-flat construction.
“What we’re trying to do is mitigate the extreme impacts of ADUs and put the program on a stronger footing,” he said. “We are merely asking for amendments that will constrain the small percentage of projects that have an outsized impact on surrounding neighborhoods.”
The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce declined to endorse the more aggressive rollback proposed by residents, or the more modest changes proposed by the city.
Instead, chamber official Angeli Calinog said the merchant group supports whatever restrictions can be deemed reasonable without significantly impacting the ability of granny flats to serve as much-needed new housing for the region.
Heidi Vonblum, the city’s deputy director of environmental policy and public spaces, said the city’s granny-flat incentives have successfully spurred construction.
But she also said the city has hired an economist to study whether any adjustments could help.
Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com