The Laguna Beach Planning Commission on Wednesday affirmed a majority of recommended revisions to a city ordinance regarding accessory dwelling units, also known as “granny flats.”
Commissioners generally stayed the course on suggestions made during a November meeting in which they favored increasing the maximum unit size to 750 square feet from 640 square feet.
But there were some twists the City Council will have to consider when it eventually discusses the matter.
One of them, resident Cody Engle said, is the size of a unit created inside an existing structure, such as a single-family house. The state doesn’t specify a size.
For an additional unit that is either attached or detached from the primary residence, state law allows the unit up to 50% of the floor area, or a maximum of 1,200 square feet.
Laguna Beach Community Development Director Greg Pfost said he was concerned that property owners may want to divide their houses and create two rentable spaces.
Pfost said he will research Engle’s concern and be prepared to explain his findings to the council.
The suggested revisions are intended to align the city with changes in state law that took effect in January.
But adhering to a set of fixed numerical standards isn’t simple in a city such as Laguna, which has varying topography with hillside lots, commissioners and staff said.
Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed Assembly Bill 2299 from Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) and Senate Bill 1069 by state Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont).
The goal of the new legislation is to make it easier to develop affordable housing options for relatives, students, senior citizens, in-home care providers and disabled people.
Some fear that more residents could mean more cars parked on city streets and that in some areas, fire engines and other public safety vehicles could have trouble getting access in emergencies.
The Laguna Beach Fire Department recommended that a lot with an accessory dwelling unit be required to have a 20-foot-wide travel lane for emergency vehicles. That was included in the commission recommendations.
On Wednesday, commissioners mulled whether a lot’s size or the amount of space buildings cover, called lot coverage, should be the primary arbiter when considering requests for accessory dwelling units.
The commission previously suggested that a unit — an independent living area with a kitchen and restroom — cover no more than 10% of a lot, compared with Laguna’s current 7% standard.
Commissioners favor allowing property owners to rent a unit at market rate if it does not cover more than 7% of the lot. But if the size exceeds 7%, the rent would be priced for a senior citizen or a person of low to moderate income, as determined by the county.
The idea, according to the city, is that seniors who can no longer afford their house payments could stay on their property in an accessory unit and rent out their house at market rate.
Under the suggested ordinance, the owner of a property with an accessory dwelling unit would have to live either in the unit or the house.
Junior accessory dwelling units would be capped at 500 square feet under the proposed ordinance. A property owner would not be allowed to rent an accessory unit for 30 or fewer days.