Seal Beach OKs new ‘granny flat’ rules required by state government

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Following a public hearing, the City Council unanimously adopted new rules for “accessory dwelling units,” also known as “granny flats,” at the agency’s Monday, Dec. 10, meeting.

The new rules are state-mandated and leave cities with little discretion.

Among other things, the new rules will allow homeowners to convert garages into apartments without public notice or city discretion. Old Town and Surfside Colony are exempt from the new ordinance. Those areas of the city already (and will continue) to prohibit accessory dwelling units. The rules apply to such residential areas as The Hill, Leisure World, College Park West and College Park East.

The reported purpose of the state law is to increase housing stock.

District One Councilwoman Ellery Deaton said she didn’t agree with the state zoning “our town.”

“All I want to do is retain the nature of our neighborhoods as best we can,” she said.

Deaton requested that non-conforming houses be required to become conforming before accessory dwelling units are approved.

District Five Councilwoman Sandra Massa-Lavitt asked if the council had to adopt the ordinance that night. City Attorney Craig Steele said the city’s current urgency ordinance would expire Tuesday, Dec. 11.

Deaton expressed concern that allowing the housing units in property setbacks could create problems with emergency vehicle access. According to Deaton, there are accessory dwelling units in the city that back up to local alleys.

According to Interim Community Development Director Crystal Landavazo, the city cannot prohibit units in setbacks unless there is a fire and safety unit.

“I’m really upset,” said resident Barbara Barton. She expressed hope that Seal Beach can come to terms with the impact of the new law on the quality of community life.

Sandra Massa-Lavitt said in an extreme case, someone could convert a cargo container into a residential unit.

However, according to Steele, the city’s ordinance requires the smaller unit to match the main building.

Seal Beach resident and activist Robert Goldberg argued that the city could legally set a maximum size of less than 1,200 square feet for accessory dwelling units. However, according to both City Attorney Steele, a recent court ruling determined that under the state law, accessory dwelling units may be 1,200 square feet or 50 percent of the lot. He said there was no discretion allowed to cities.

According to Interim Community Development Director Crystal Landavazo’s Dec. 10 report to the council, the new parking requirements for accessory dwelling units can be a maximum of one space per unit or one parking space for each bedroom, “whichever is less.”

The new state laws prohibit cities from requiring more parking for an accessory dwelling unit if the unit is within a half mile of public transit, in a historically or architecturally “significant” district, part of a primary home or when there is a car share vehicle within a block of the unit or when the city requires on-street parking permits but does not offer the permits to the people who live in an accessory dwelling unit.

The Planning Commission reluctantly recommended that the council approve the ordinance in early November. Although the actual vote was 4-1 in favor (with Commissioner Robert Aguilar dissenting), none of the five planners actually liked the ordinance. However, the changes were mandated by state law so the commissioners had little alternative than to recommend approval.

As previously reported, an additional dwelling unit is basically a small place for someone to live in that is on the same property as a larger house.

According to Interim Community Development Director Crystal Landavazo’s report to the Planning Commission, Seal Beach passed urgency ordinances to regulate smaller housing units in December of last year and the year before. However, the California legislature passed two new laws late last year, AB 494 and SB 299.

At the time, District Four Commissioner Patty Campbell and District One Commissioner Victor Grgas both expressed concern about the state mandate’s potential impact on parking in parts of the city.

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