City to Loosen Restrictions on Granny Flats

While some lots in the College Area and San Diego are zoned R2 (which allows a second unit), the City of San Diego is now moving forward on allowing R1 zoned properties to allow the building of a second unit. Recent new state laws from Sacramento require California cities to loosen regulations on granny flats, specifically to reduce the typical requirements involved with adding a second unit of additional parking spaces in some cases (yard parking may be allowed) , fire sprinklers, utility meters and certain set-back requirements. In May, the San Diego Planning Commission unanimously approved preliminary plans for reducing restrictions on R1 properties on the construction of a granny flat (known in the regulations as a “companion unit” since your granny would not necessarily need to live in the unit).

The details of an acceptable companion unit (of which requirements could change) is that the unit must be 1200 sq/ft or less and can include in some cases a garage. The unit can be added to an existing structure but would need to have a kitchenette (sink, food cooking appliance, and storage units) but not necessarily a separate bathroom. In order to avoid creating vacation units, a 30 day minimum stay is required. Additionally, the property owner must live on the property at the time of construction.

The granny flat effort does have some benefits. San Diego of course has a serious housing crisis, with a lack of enough affordable housing and little remaining land for large housing projects. Allowing second units to be built would be a fast way to increase the availability of housing. Also, it would create a small building boom, increasing economic activity. Additionally, the city would be looking forward to collecting additional property taxes, rental unit taxes, and sales taxes as the density of the consumer base increases.

However, allowing the mass building of second units would also have its problems. First of all, it could change the character of existing neighborhoods by reducing backyard space and increasing the density of people in the neighborhood and cars parked on the street. Here in the College Area we certainly have pockets of extreme density, especially close to the University. As the property owners of the rental properties possibly build granny flats in backyards, density would again increase. Also, with reduced set-back rules, structures would be closer to property lines, causing possible claustrophobia and reduced open space. Additionally, property owners could move out after construction and rent both units, causing more renters in neighborhoods. Clearly in neighborhoods by the coast, units will be turned in to short-term vacation rentals further increasing density, traffic, and noise and changing the character of quiet coastal neighborhoods.

Don’t get your shovels out yet as the regulations still need to be approved by the City Council and Mayor Faulconer but based on the tax dollars to be generated and the need for more affordable housing, full approval (after some fine tuning) is expected later this year.

I will continue to follow this issue and report updates in the coming months. If you are thinking of selling a property in the coming months, call me for a no-obligation, no pressure property valuation meeting.

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