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Encinitas to build on ‘granny flat’ program’s popularity

Changes in state law may help increase accessory dwelling units, even in HOA communities

A 2-year-old effort to encourage Encinitas homeowners to build small, rentable units on their properties is proving so successful that the City Council is contemplating expanding it.

The Encinitas City Council on Wednesday, Oct. 21, directed city employees to explore options for a construction financing assistance program. Such a program could make it possible for more homeowners to build these structures, but the homeowners would need to agree to later rent them at low-cost rates, council members said.

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It’s the latest possible addition to a multi-pronged approach for increasing affordable housing options in Encinitas and helping the city comply with state mandates. The little rentals — officially called “accessory dwelling units” in government documents and commonly referred to as “granny flats” or “mother-in-law cottages” — are seen as a less controversial way to increase the city’s supply of low-income housing than building multi-family apartment complexes.

In 2018, Encinitas began easing city building code regulations for accessory dwelling units and waived some permit fees. Last year, the city contracted with two architects to produce pre-approved designs for mini-housing units that could be “shovel ready,” meaning that homeowners who used these new pre-set plans could save time and money on construction. The plan options can be viewed on the city’s Permit Ready Accessory Dwelling Unit program web page at: https://encinitasca.gov/pradu

City planning department employee Geoffrey Plagemann told the council that the new architectural drawings and other elements of the PRADU program have been popular, both in the city and outside it. So far, representatives for 60 cities in five states have asked him for information about the program, he said, adding that the city of San Diego already is recommending the new Encinitas architectural ADU plans as options to its residents.

Last year, Encinitas received 209 permit applications for accessory dwelling unit projects, issued 102 permits and certified 48 new units as ready for occupancy. So far this year, Encinitas has received 233 permit applications to build accessory dwelling units, it has issued 91 permits and certified 34 completed units, Plagemann said.

And, he said, he expects those numbers to grow in the coming year because state laws regarding accessory dwelling unit construction have changed this year. Accessory dwelling units of up to 800 square feet in size now are allowed “by right” in single-family zones under a new state law, he said.

In response to council questions, Plagemann and Barbara Kautz, an attorney the city has hired to handle housing issues, said the changes in state laws also mean that it will be easier to build accessory dwelling units in neighborhoods where homeowners’ associations restrict what can be constructed.

“They can’t ban them entirely, definitely,” Kautz said, adding that homeowners’ associations may be able to set more strict building standards than the city has, but they still must allow people to build the structures.

Plagemann said the city’s already receiving requests from people who live in areas with homeowners’ associations.

People also are asking if the city could commission another set of architectural drawings, one for accessory dwelling units on top of garages, he said. Council members said they could support that request.

When it came to Plagemann’s suggestion of exploring ways to help homeowners pay for construction of accessory dwelling units, possibly through a low or no-interest loan program, council members said they were very interested in the proposal and wanted more information about how it could be implemented. These ideas are “worth looking at,” Councilman Tony Kranz said, stressing that he’s supportive as long as the state gives the city credit for these new units when it assesses whether Encinitas is meeting its low-income housing requirements set by the state.

“Without that, I really don’t want to be in the business of building these units,” he said.

Kautz, the housing attorney, told him that the city is allowed to claim these units in its housing calculations.

— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune


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