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Planning commission recommends further easing of ‘granny flat’ requirements

More La Cañada Flintridge homeowners may soon be able to build accessory dwelling units, aka "granny flats," after planning commissioners recently recommended the City Council further ease restrictions on lots where they can be built.

The City Council passed an ordinance in June amending portions of the city's zoning code regarding the housing units, to remain compliant with a state-mandated easing of restrictions passed in 2016 amid a statewide housing shortage.

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The city kept in place stipulations that accessory dwelling units could only be built on lots bigger than 10,000 square feet and at least 70 feet in width. One additional parking space would be required on the property for any new structure built.

The 2016 state law, however, created a loophole allowing people who converted an existing pool house, detached garage or similar structure, as opposed to building a new one, to skirt those requirements.

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Moreover, a homeowner could legally construct such a structure with the intention of converting it to an ADU, have it converted and still bypass the parking and lot size mandates, Deputy Development Director Susan Koleda told planning commissioners during a Jan. 23 meeting.

"The rules we had, that you had to have 10,000 square feet, didn't matter if you converted existing space," she said. "[If] people constructed a pool house or a detached garage and then legally converted it, there was absolutely nothing we could do."

A new package of legislation approved in October by Gov. Jerry Brown included Senate Bill 229, which allows local municipalities to require one parking space per ADU whenever a granny flat is newly built. It also allows the units to be constructed concurrently with the primary dwelling, as long as they are kept under 50% of the primary space area (including a home's garage) or under 1,200 square feet, whichever is less.

Koleda said removing restrictions on lot size, thereby easing restrictions on the building of new units, will close the loophole by reducing the number of conversions.

"When they build [a structure] as an ADU we can require the one parking space," Koleda said. "That was a very important point to council. They were very concerned about the lack of parking that was coming about from the legal conversion of space."

La Cañada resident David Haxton — who'd come to multiple meetings in the past to ask officials to drop the minimum lot size requirement — asked planning commissioners to also consider eliminating the 70-foot lot width requirement.

"What does the width of the lot got to do with whether it's appropriate to have an ADU in the backyard?" Haxton asked.

After some discussion, commissioners agreed, asking that the lot width requirement also be stricken in the recommendation that will likely go before the City Council Feb. 20 for a first reading.

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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