Costa Mesa planners delay action on proposed new rules for ‘granny flats’

Costa Mesa planners delay action on proposed new rules for ‘granny flats’
The Costa Mesa Planning Commission held off Monday on adopting new city regulations addressing development of secondary housing units, also known as “granny flats,” like this one in Glendale. (File Photo)

Costa Mesa planning commissioners held off Monday night on advancing new regulations that would give more property owners the option of developing accessory housing units, also known as "granny flats," saying they need additional time to study the issue.

The proposed rules would permit granny flats — smaller, complete homes that accompany a primary residence — on more compact lots and in different types of neighborhoods than currently allowed.


While commissioners acknowledged the usefulness of such units — particularly in creating new and potentially more affordable housing options — they said they'd like more time to get their arms around the issue before rewriting the city's rules.

"My belief is that if we increase supply, hopefully that will relieve a little bit of pressure on rentals," said Commissioner Jeffrey Harlan. "Clearly we do not have a lot of raw land available for development. Most of our development will be in-fill projects."


Commissioners voted unanimously to take another crack at the issue during their Oct. 9 meeting. Their recommendations would be advisory, as the City Council has the final say on the matter.

Granny flats can be detached structures, attached to an existing residence or fashioned out of repurposed space within a home, such as a master bedroom or garage.

Currently, Costa Mesa permits such units only in single-family residential zones.

Under the proposed changes discussed Monday, they also would be allowed in multifamily residential areas, as long as a given parcel is already developed with a single home.

City staff also recommended reducing the minimum lot size required to build an accessory unit from 8,500 to 6,000 square feet.

That lower threshold would apply to the vast majority of single-family lots in Costa Mesa — about 13,000 in all, according to the city.

City staff said the proposed changes are meant to make Costa Mesa's regulations consistent with state law — including legislation passed last year to reduce barriers to developing accessory units.

Commissioners, though, expressed concern about potentially allowing that level of development in single-family areas.

"I don't think that we need to look at this as, 'Let's expand this to every single lot that we possibly can,' " said Chairman Stephan Andranian. "I think we need to design an ordinance that is going to allow for some flexibility but also preserve the nature of the neighborhoods."

Some commissioners said they didn't necessarily favor proposed rules capping the size of detached secondary units at 800 square feet, saying a better approach might be to set limits based on lot sizes.

Others scratched their heads at how the city should approach parking requirements in situations where homeowners convert their garages into living spaces.

A major sticking point for Commissioner Isabell Kerins was language allowing only one accessory unit per residential parcel.

"I would rather we didn't add that so that allows for more flexibility for our residents for their lifestyles," she said.

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