Nevada County to consider more changes to accessory unit regulations |

Nevada County to consider more changes to accessory unit regulations

Accessory dwelling units — otherwise known as granny units — can often provide tenants with affordable housing, and some Nevada County residents say the restrictions on building and renting them should be altered to ensure that the county is meeting the needs of its renters.

The Nevada County Board of Supervisors approved changes to the county’s land use and development code that governs accessory units this month in order to comply with new state laws that took effect in January.

At the board’s Sept. 12 meeting, some county residents said they’d like to see additional changes to the rules governing accessory dwelling units that could help bolster the county’s stock of affordable housing. The supervisors directed staff to research those suggestions, and said they’d soon revisit the topic.

Mike Berlin, representing the newly-formed Tenants of Nevada County, suggested restricting accessory units from being used as short-term vacation rentals in order to ensure that they are used for long-term resident housing.

“All of the talk around accessory dwelling units is to incentivize them in order to increase the amount of affordable housing,” he said.

Short-term rentals take housing opportunities away from tenants looking for affordable, long-term spaces, he said.

Berlin also suggested the county forgive building fees associated with accessory units if homeowners agree to rent the units to low- or very-low-income households at a rate affordable to those income groups.

“This will make it less expensive to build the accessory units and pass this savings on to the renters. This is a cost-effective program that will directly create housing immediately,” he said in a letter to the Nevada County Planning Commission.

Jim Hurley, a county resident living in the Lake Vera neighborhood, said accessory units should not be built in his neighborhood because there is only one escape route in the event of a fire.

“We support affordable housing. But perhaps it’s not a good idea to support affordable housing that is unsafe,” he said.

Laurie Oberholtzer, a Nevada City resident representing the Rural Quality Coalition, suggested reducing the maximum allowed size of accessory units in order to ensure affordability. The county’s current code allows the units to be built up to 1,200 square feet. Oberholtzer suggested reducing that size to 800 square feet.

The county currently requires homeowners to live on-site in order to build or rent out an accessory unit. Oberholtzer suggested keeping that mandate.

“If both units are rentals, they become just investment properties with the intent of maximizing return on the main unit as well as the second unit,” she said in a letter to the Nevada County Planning Commission. “This generally results in greater housing cost for the main unit by a renter than a homeowner. We are seeing a trend in these situations of both units being rented as vacation rentals in this case.”

Supervisor Dan Miller said tenants don’t typically care for properties as well as homeowners do, which can affect the property values in a neighborhood.

The homeowner occupancy requirement, he said, “can add something to the quality of a neighborhood.”

Greg Zaller, a county resident, said allowing non-occupying homeowners to build and rent out accessory units would be beneficial to tenants because it would increase the county’s stock of affordable housing.

Zaller said accessory units are a “wonderful solution” to the county’s housing crisis.

He said mixing affordable units into neighborhoods creates a community feel, “as opposed to having a specially-zoned area where you condense [affordable units], like a housing project.”

He recommended requiring non-occupying homeowners to hire a property management company to oversee their rentals if they are applying to build an accessory unit in an effort to address concerns over neighborhood quality.

“Occupying owners are on the property, but that doesn’t mean it will be managed properly, which is the issue,” Zaller said. “They should target their restrictions toward properties being managed properly.”

“I sympathize with folks who want homeowner occupancy to keep some control of the location, the property and the neighborhood. I do. And that’s why I would like more info about it,” said Supervisor Heidi Hall. “But frankly the world has changed. Our young people cannot buy. And just because our young people are renting doesn’t mean they’re not taking care of their property. They simply have no other option. And in this county, we’re not going to be growing — we’re not going to be bringing new, young, working people here — if we cannot get them housing.”

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email or call 530-477-4231.

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