2017-03-16 / Front Page

‘Granny flats’ policy working its way to council

New state law says cities must make it easier for homeowners to build detached dwelling units
By Becca Whitnall
becca@theacorn com


SPACE FOR MOM—An illustration depicts the three types of accessory dwelling units: junior, attached and detached. A new state law aimed at adding to the state’s affordable housing stock makes it easier for homeowners to build such additions. The City Council is expected to vote soon on changes to the building code required under the law. 
Courtesy of City of Thousand Oaks SPACE FOR MOM—An illustration depicts the three types of accessory dwelling units: junior, attached and detached. A new state law aimed at adding to the state’s affordable housing stock makes it easier for homeowners to build such additions. The City Council is expected to vote soon on changes to the building code required under the law. Courtesy of City of Thousand Oaks To comply with new state laws, the City of Thousand Oaks will soon change its policies regarding so-called “granny flats.”

Whereas the city currently does not allow dwelling units that are detached from a property’s main home, state law, which went into effect Jan. 1, not only allows them but precludes much of the authority the city had in terms of providing planning commission or City Council review or required notice to nearby residents.

“You could look in your backyard one day and see that your neighbor is building a new small home and you would never have heard anything about this if they hadn’t come over to talk with you, which hopefully they would have,” said Community Development Director Mark Towne in addressing the issue with the city planning commission at its March 13 meeting.

“All the residential properties in the city go through some kind of a planning review process . . . none of that would occur here,” Towne said. “These units would be essentially approved . . . almost over the counter.”

Forced to alter its building code—despite twice writing the state in opposition of the new laws—the Thousand Oaks City Council in January directed city staff to draft a new ordinance to comply with the mandate.

At its meeting, the planning commission voted unanimously to recommend new standards for the three defined types of granny flats, called “accessory dwelling units” by the state.

All three are separate residential units that provide independent living facilities including a bathroom, kitchen and sleeping quarters, but differ by location related to the primary home on a property.

Junior accessory dwelling units are contained entirely within an existing single-family structure through conversion of an existing living area. Attached units are comprised of an addition, a new unit over an existing garage or a conversion of an attached garage, and detached units stand separately from the main structure and can be entirely new structures or conversions of existing detached buildings, like pool rooms.

Among what is left to the city’s discretion is unit location based on public health and safety, maximum size, architectural style, landscape, owner-occupancy rules, setbacks and privacy and oak and landmark tree protection.

The caveat to the city’s standards is that they cannot be arbitrary nor excessive or burdensome to the point that they unreasonably restrict a homeowner’s ability to build the additional dwelling unit.

At issue at Monday’s commission meeting was staff ’s proposed size limit of 600 square feet for detached ADUs, a figure some speakers called an excessive restriction.

The state law allows flats as small as 220 square feet and as large as 1,200 square feet.

“These are called granny units for a reason,” said Thousand Oaks resident Marcie Maxwell, speaking during the public comment period. “I don’t think (the small units) are the gracious kind of housing we want for our mothers and our children.”

Maxwell said the 600-square-foot maximum might not allow room for wheelchairs and walkers that older residents could require.

Towne later explained city staff came to the 600-square-foot limit by comparing it with local apartment units.

“We looked at eight recently approved apartment complexes in Thousand Oaks and one proposed and the range for the one-bedroom units . . . was 604 square feet to 1,100 square feet, with an average of 772,” he said.

Planning commissioners Andrew Pletcher and Sharon McMahon both spoke in support of a larger maximum allowance, with Pletcher suggesting upping it by 100 square feet and McMahon suggesting a limit of 760 square feet.

With new commissioner Don Lanson having been sworn in earlier in the evening, the body voted 5-0 to recommend staff’s new ADU regulations to the City Council with a maximum limit of 700 square feet.

In a tweet sent after the meeting, Pletcher called the commission’s decision “a good starting point for recommendation of this new concept in Thousand Oaks.”

“Council, of course, can change it right back,” he wrote.

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