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Glendale updates local ‘granny flat’ rules to comply with state laws

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Glendale resident Scott Lowe recently completely a 365-square-foot accessory-dwelling unit, pictured, in the back of his 1930s, Spanish-style house. Lowe said he supports new state housing laws taking effect Jan. 1 that will make it easier to build ADUs in the city’s single-family neighborhoods. Other residents have expressed concern about the prospect of adding housing in low-density areas.
(Courtesy of Scott Lowe )

Glendale has updated its local rules governing accessory-dwelling units, or ADUs, to align with a set of state housing laws that will make it easier to build the self-contained housing units in the city.

State legislators have pitched the package of legislation taking effect Jan. 1 — Assembly Bills 68 and 881 and Senate Bill 13 — as a means to combat a statewide affordable-housing shortage.

On Tuesday, Glendale City Council members voted unanimously to adopt a temporary emergency ordinance that will allow the city to enforce some of its own ADU regulations — including maximum ADU size — even as many will be superseded or negated by the state laws. ADUs are sometimes called “granny flats” or casitas.

“We’re trying to be in compliance with the state law[s], and that’s it,” Councilman Frank Quintero said before the vote, summing up several of the council member’s ambivalent feelings toward the bills passed by the state Legislature.

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“It’s not up to us to pass [those laws]” Councilman Vartan Gharpetian added.

State Assemblyman Richard Bloom, who hails from Santa Monica and authored AB 881, said in a statement that while some cities have embraced ADUs, others have made it unnecessarily difficult to construct them by exploiting ambiguities in the law. He said California’s affordable-housing shortage is a statewide issue.

“Each of these units presents a housing opportunity, as well as a little additional income for property owners, who, in many cases, can benefit from the extra income,” Bloom said in the statement, adding that overall ADUs have been popular with residents.

Under Glendale’s new ordinance, studios and one-bedroom ADUs cannot be bigger than 850 square feet. ADUs that provide more than one bedroom can span a maximum of 1,000 square feet.

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The new state laws allow for units that are up to 50% of the proposed or existing primary dwelling, or 1,200 square feet.

Glendale’s design standards will apply to ADUs that are larger than 800 square feet, but not to all of the ones that are smaller than that size, Glendale City Atty. Mike Garcia said prior to Tuesday’s vote.

That’s because the laws require mandatory approval for ADUs that meet three specifications: a maximum square footage of 800 feet, maximum height of 16 feet and a minimum 4-foot setback, according to a city report.

ADUs can be attached to a primary property or stand alone.

ADUs were banned in Glendale until a 2016 state law overturned the blanket prohibition. Once the new laws go into effect, the city must allow them in all residential areas, including in single-family and multifamily housing zones. Property owners will be able to build up to two ADUs on single-family lots.

Glendale resident Scott Lowe and his fiancée recently converted a garage on his property into a 365-square-foot ADU. He said he took pains to match the style of the small dwelling with his 1932 Spanish-style house.

“It’s not changing the fundamental character of the neighborhood; it’s using the neighborhood more efficiently,” Lowe said.

“The thing that negatively affects neighborhood character, for me, is housing being so expensive that people have to live on the streets,” he added.

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It’s a position in stark contrast to fellow Glendale resident Mike Mohill, who has expressed opposition to the state laws during recent council meetings.

During public comment at the two most recent council meetings, Mohill said he and his wife worked hard and saved money in order to move from an apartment into a quiet single-family neighborhood. He said he is worried the new legislation will change his immediate environment for the worse.

“We did not work hard to have the state Legislature and governor encroach into our privacy,” he said during the meeting on Tuesday.

Since Glendale began allowing ADUs in 2017, 83 have been permitted, constructed and presumably have tenants, while another 83 have had their permits approved but may not have been constructed yet, Garcia said. There are an additional 115 permits pending approval, he added.

About 13,000 Los Angeles residents have submitted ADU applications, according to Bloom.

Glendale’s new ordinance will buy city officials time as they grapple with the best way to address the bevy of new requirements written into the state laws for the long term, according to Garcia.

If adopted, the ordinance will be valid for 45 days but can be extended for up to a year. Garcia said it will likely take a full year to craft and adopt a permanent ordinance.

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