Santa Rosa continued to struggle to find the right balance between making it easier to build granny units in the city and making sure the additional housing units don’t cause more trouble than they’re worth.
The city has been working for months to find ways to streamline the granny unit permitting process, reduce regulations, lower fees and bring the city into compliance with state laws also designed to remove barriers to construction of such units.
But the City Council wrestled with a number of elements in the proposal late into Tuesday night, and had still yet to resolve many of the issues before The Press Democrat 10 p.m. deadline.
These included the very issue that vexed the Planning Commission in July — should people be allowed to rent such units as vacation rentals, or should they be restricted only as long-term rentals? Councilman John Sawyer summed up the council’s hesitation with many of the provisions in the ordinance, which at its core has been viewed as a way to increase the city’s stock of housing.
“I really love the idea of being bold, but what I don’t want to be is hasty,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer wondered about the wisdom of lifting a provision that requires a property with a granny unit to have the owner live in at least one of the units.
But some residents have argued that lifting what is known as the “owner occupancy” requirement might change the feel of city neighborhoods by causing more homes and units to become rentals.
The council also struggled with a requirement that such units be rented for at least 30 days, a measure meant to limit them from being rented out to tourists for the weekend through popular vacation rental sites like Airbnb instead of as long-term affordable rental housing.
Some council members wondered whether 30 days was long enough to accomplish that goal, while others seemed uncomfortable dictating how homeowners should be allowed to monetize their properties. The same issue split the Planning Commission 3-3 in July.
Another huge issue involved amnesty for those with existing granny units, known officially as accessory dwelling units, that were built — or converted — without permits decades ago.
Since 1995, the city has issued permits for about 600 second dwelling units, and it estimates there are an additional 2,000 to 3,000 unpermitted units in the city.
A previous proposal to create an amnesty program for such unpermitted structures in the late 1990s went nowhere.
Property owners who come in voluntarily to get their illegal granny unit properly permitted would not face fines. Those who are reported by code enforcement, however, could still face penalties, city staff said.
But some council members wondered aloud whether that would be enough of an incentive for owners to come forward, given that there will still be substantial permit fees and likely costs of bringing the unit up to current code, including installation of fire sprinklers.
Owners were in line to get a break on some permit fees, however. For the construction of smaller units, some fees valued at $10,000 were set to be waived for units 750-square-feet and smaller, with reduced fees also for units between 750-square-feet and 1,200-square-feet.