Council ponders new second-unit regulations
A new second-unit ordinance in Nevada City is becoming more likely, but some residents balked at proposed amnesty and square footage provisions at a City Hall workshop Wednesday night.
The ordinance, first discussed at a council meeting in mid-August, could help the city meet state standards for affordable housing.
Nevada City is mandated to update its housing element next year and must provide adequate affordable housing to become eligible for federal grants for additional housing programs.
“I’d like to make choices that make the least impact on our neighbors, and I’d like us to be a little flexible on the requirements,” said council member Sally Harris.
A draft ordinance by city staff suggests a 1,200-square-foot size for a second unit, but most people attending the meeting said it was too big. A 1,200-square-foot unit is the largest legal second unit that is allowed under state law.
Residents expressed a desire to limit the size of second units to ensure they would be affordable to the city’s lowest-income families.
The second-unit dwellings are designed to provide a home for a family of four earning $32,550 or less, which is considered “very low” income by county standards.
The original ordinance, signed five years ago, allowed for second units at least 300 square feet but not more than 640 square feet.
For its population, Nevada City is short about 75 affordable-housing units, said planner Tom Parilo.
Wednesday night’s meeting was the first of two in a workshop to craft an ordinance for new second-unit dwellings as well as set standards to legalize existing second-unit housing built without permits. The next meeting will occur on Sept. 24.
City Engineer Bill Falconi said that of about 102 estimated second units in Nevada City, just six would meet state standards for affordable housing without modifications.
Some don’t meet the proper off-street parking or frontage requirements, he said.
The ordinance also discussed amnesty for property owners to help get the units into compliance.
The proposed ordinance would require homeowners to pay water and sewer fees for the previous three years to help qualify as a legal unit. It also would waive certain processing fees in some instances.
Most in attendance balked at the idea.
“They’ve taken, but they haven’t given anything,” said former mayor Glenda Zanone. “They’ve lived on a rental income.”
Under the amnesty provisions, “you’ve handed them a gold mine, and you’ve handed the rest of us the shaft,” she said.
Her sentiments were echoed by John Kartozian, a more than 30-year resident.
“I want amnesty for some of the bills I’ve been paying, too,” he said. “You can’t just give it away.”
“If any of these (homeowners) came forward and said they magnanimously built second units for the poor, I say give them amnesty,” he added. “But I don’t think that’s the case.”
To contact Staff Writer David Mirhadi, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4239.
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