New regulations regarding accessory-dwelling units near final approval

The Burbank City Council will soon have a more permanent set of rules outlining the dos and don’ts of building accessory dwelling units, known as ADUs or granny flats, in the city.

Council members unanimously voted on Tuesday to approve the first reading of a proposed zoning amendment that would allow Burbank to regulate how and where ADUs can be built.

The City Council will have one more chance to make changes to the rules during the amendment’s final reading next Tuesday.

A crucial component to the proposed regulations deals with the size of granny flats.

Burbank has been using guidelines laid out in an interim ordinance approved last April to determine what types of ADUs can be built while city staff worked on a more thought-out set of rules that could work for the city.

Under the interim ordinance, granny flats can be built up to 500 square feet if they do not put the property over its floor-area ratio, which is what the City Council decided was a fair size.

However, the Planning Board decided during its Feb. 12 meeting to recommend City Council members allow granny flats to be built up to 800 square feet after receiving feedback from residents who said 500 square feet is too small.

Council members on Tuesday ultimately decided that up to 500 square feet would be large enough for a housing unit that could be configured to be a studio or a one-bedroom unit, fearing that having an ADU larger than that would defeat the purpose of a granny flat.

“I am not unsympathetic to the people who feel that they need to have a one-bedroom or two-bedroom unit,” Vice Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy said. “To me, that was not the purpose and intent of state law.”

The state measures Gabel-Luddy referred to were those initially passed last year — SB 1069 and AB 2299 — that changed the rules regarding ADUs in an attempt to address the housing shortage in California. The pieces of legislation were updated this past January as SB 229 and AB 494.

Under the state regulations, property owners could build a granny flat up to 1,200 square feet in all single-family residential zones. However, Burbank was allowed to and decided to pick a square footage standard that was right for the city.

“If the purpose and intent is to provide units that are considered more affordable, then by definition a smaller unit would not be as expensive and would remain an accessory to the main house,” Gabel-Luddy said.

The proposed Burbank ordinance would allow homeowners to build a granny flat in different ways. They can choose to construct a new detached unit or a unit built above a garage, as long as it has a 5-foot setback from the rear and side.

Residents could also convert an existing garage into a granny flat or convert a portion of the main house as an ADU.

The proposed rules are different for single-family homes in the R1-H zone, which is located in the Rancho neighborhood of Burbank, an area that allows the boarding of horses in the backyard.

Many Rancho residents have told the City Council and other city officials that having new ADUs built in their neighborhood would negatively affect the unique characteristics found in the R1-H zone.

While the interim ordinance did not allow for granny flats to be built in this specific zone, city staff believe they have come up with a solution, which the City Council spoke in favor of, that would keep the Rancho’s aesthetics intact.

Under the proposed ordinance, homeowners in the R1-H zone cannot build a new ADU, but they can convert an existing city-permitted garage, city-permitted guest house or a portion of the main house as a granny flat.

In addition to the physical dimensions of what a permissible ADU in Burbank should look like and can be located, the proposed ordinance will also require the homeowner to live in either the main house or in the granny flat.

Some residents and council members had concerns with the live-in covenant, saying that it would not be fair to those that cannot live in either the main house or ADU, whether due to illness, death or military deployment.

To address this concern, the City Council agreed to allow residents in those situations to apply for a hardship waiver, which would give the applicant up to two years to find a solution.

Twitter: @acocarpio