Let’s set the record straight on ‘granny unit’ proposals
I disagree with your editorial Opinion of Dec. 20 titled “Planners’ affordable-housing suggestions too politicizing.” The term “granny units” started the confusion. To add to the misinformation, your text used the term in error four more times. The regulations concerning building senior citizen housing (granny units) has been in place for 20 years, having been promoted by former Supervisors Pat Sutton and Elsie Barnhart in the 1980s. This program, which also includes disability housing, is not under going any modification and is working well.
Let’s use the right term starting now: “second dwelling units.” Even though the senior citizen and disability housing is a second dwelling unit on a single-family dwelling zoned parcel, there are restrictions on who may occupy the unit. One person must be at least 60 years old and in the case of disability housing, one adult person must have a disability. This project does not require a Planning Commission review or a conditional-use permit.
The new rules being considered place no restrictions on who may occupy the “second dwelling unit.” The only similarity to the granny and disability housing rules is to allow further intrusion into areas allocated as single-family zoning. Promoted, as a relief for the undefined affordable-housing needs, the concept relies only on the size limitation of 1,000 square feet, amended to 800 by the Planning Commission, to qualify as affordable. The implementing ordinance does not mandate the second units to be affordable or to be made available to those who need low-cost housing.
What is “second dwelling unit” as envisioned by the ordinance when creating a new subsection to the zoning regulations?
A. Modifies zoning districts normally reserved as single-family dwellings and allows a second house without changing the zoning designations.
B. Initially it allowed “qualified recreational vehicles” to serve as second units.
C. The pilot program would allow the construction or placement of a total of 90 units over three years in areas of a city sphere of influence, community regions, rural centers and rural regions.
D. Initially offered, the new or attached units up to 1,000 square feet, later modified to 800, could be conventionally constructed on site, modular construction, manufactured home or a “qualified recreational vehicle,” in some cases could include a garage, carport, deck or porch.
E. As condition for securing a permit for construction or placement, only an annual report to the Planning Department will be requested to determine if it was rented as low-cost, “affordable housing” or rented to a Section 8 rental voucher holder.
What are the concerns with the unrestricted “second dwelling unit” concept?
A. The second dwelling unit concept modifies the zoning that is already in place. Zoning and the consistency of zoning is what people rely on when they purchase or build a home, making the largest single investment of their lifetime.
B. The ordinance as initially offered visualized a permit concept, over the counter, without any environmental review, even though it sought to modify zoning densities and increase population.
C. The Planning Commission review process was not included, and the opportunity for a timely public hearing and public notice to contiguous and adjacent property owner was omitted.
D. Since there is no actual requirement in the “second dwelling unit” ordinance that the unit is exclusively rented to persons needing affordable housing (lower-cost housing for lower-income households, as defined by the California Health and Safety Code) the intended relief is not assured.
E. In most cases in the rural areas, new construction and the installation of supporting utilities, wells, septic systems and driveways are a costly impact, difficult, if not impossible, to offset construction cost by low-income rental receipts.
The questions in my mind are these: Will an unrestricted second dwelling unit concept help solve the problem of low-cost housing for low-income families, or will it create a bigger problem by modifying zoning, increasing the demands on police and fire protection, create traffic impact, the potential for well failures and increased waste water disposal needs? Is not a Planning Commission review the appropriate place for these questions to be publicly addressed?
Finally, I am amazed at The Union’s Opinion that the “second dwelling unit” approval should go forward out of the public view and devoid of public process.
GB Tucker of Nevada City is a member of the Nevada County Planning Commission.
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