And so-called granny flats, otherwise known as accessory dwelling units (ADUs) or companion units, are increasingly coming before, and under fire during, neighborhood planning review.
The City has made it easier — and less expensive — to create companion units. The City Council unanimously voted to waive development impact fees, facility benefit assessment fees and general plan maintenance fees for the construction of companion units. This has impacted their development. A recent study found granny flat permits in San Diego increased by 71 percent between 2016 and 2017.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer and District 7 Councilmember Scott Sherman are spearheading granny-flat streamlining and cost-cutting.
“One of the fastest and least expensive ways we can increase affordable housing in San Diego is to make it easier to build granny flats, build more housing that people can actually afford,” Faulconer said. “With these new incentives, we’re removing barriers to encourage the construction of new units that San Diegans can actually afford.”
Sherman concurred contending housing shortages are “literally forcing the next generation of San Diegans to move outside the region.”
District 2 community planners, like Henish Pulickal and Karl Rand of Pacific Beach Planning Group, and architect Mark Krencik of Peninsula Community Planning Board, noted more granny flats are being reviewed — with more on the way.
PCPB president Pulickal, speaking on his own behalf, believes that’s mostly good.
"ADUs are a great step in the right direction to ameliorate the housing crisis facing San Diego and all of California,” Pulickal said. “Rent control doesn't make sense. Building more units does.”
Added Pulickal: “ADUs are a solution that we need to get behind because housing prices are basically a result of supply and demand. When we have more units available for people to live in, that will slow down the rate of rent increases, making California a more affordable state for more people."
Pulickal noted a granny-flat project came through PB planning review recently wherein neighbors “didn't want the granny flat because the primary house is used as a vacation rental by an investor owner.”
PB board member Rand concurred that such situations are becoming commonplace — and more problematic.
“We really do have a split between the old school who don’t want greater density, and the more forward-looking who say, ‘We need to have density, work with the flow and control things.’”
Rand noted a community planner’s purview is limited. “Our primary function is to provide a public forum where applicants have to walk through the process and face the public,” he said.
Added Rand: “We’ve had a number of situations where either a board member, or the public, spoke out against [granny-flats]. We’ve even had developers go back and redraw and redesign the things.”
Architect Mark Krencik, a Peninsula Community Planning Board member, has chaired the group’s subcommittee reviewing new development projects for four years. He agreed new state laws relaxing requirements for granny flats are causing more and more of them to be proposed and built.
“In the last year or two we’ve reviewed about 12 companion units, but about 50 percent of those have been in the last six months,” Krencik said. “There have been some that have had questionable types of parking arrangements.”
Speaking as an architect, Krencik pointed out new state laws regarding granny flats are fundamentally changing the rules governing their size, cost and whether parking is required for them.
“What’s come down in the new laws is that granny flats are now allowed to be up to 50 percent the size of the primary dwelling,” Krencik said. “So if you have a 2,400-square-foot house, you can have a 1,200-square-foot companion unit. That’s a nice-sized, two-bedroom condo.”
Added Krencik: “There used to be a one-space-per-bedroom parking requirement. But with the new rules, parking is exempt if the companion unit is 500 square feet or less, or if it’s in Transit Priority Area (trolley and bus corridors).”
The upshot is granny flats are here to stay, and rules governing them will have to be tweaked to address problems arising from them moving forward.
“The reality is the mayor’s behind it, the City Council seems to be behind it, and the state is asking us to do it,” Krencik said. “Our planning board will be taking this on next year. And the topics will be what we want and don’t want about [granny flat regulations], and what we can do about it.”