Healdsburg loosens regulations on ‘granny units’ to address ongoing housing need

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The Healdsburg City Council on Monday advanced the county’s least restrictive rules on granny units to encourage development and help address the city’s ongoing and immediate need for more affordable workforce housing.

The move comes three years after a city housing action committee first made the recommendation to expand the size of the accessory units on existing home sites, as well as reduce the impact fees collected to build them. The council’s decision was seen as a victory in meeting Healdsburg’s plan to open up new ways to solve what has been branded a growing regional housing crisis.

“This has been a long process,” said Mayor David Hagele. “It’s a pretty big step that we’re taking. This is housing we want, and this is housing we need. This is a pretty happy moment that we’re able to take some action.”

The unanimous vote also followed the council’s direction to city staff to finalize a deal to buy two small, below-market rate apartment complexes not far from the downtown plaza, according to the real estate agent representing the seller. The two properties, each made up of eight low-rent units, are located at 531 University St. and 500 Piper St. Terms of the purchase agreement were not available Monday, though the asking price was $1.8 million and $1.5 million, respectively.

Once the new granny unit regulations go into effect in the next 45 days, residents will have fees waived on all those built up to 850 square feet. Under current city regulations, the dimension is the largest permitted and costs nearly $10,000 to construct, according to the city.

The council also increased the maximum size of the secondary units to 1,200 square feet, which took the city staff-supported suggestion from the planning commission and expanded it by 200 square feet. Granny units larger than the 850-square-foot cap and up to the new 1,200-square-foot limit will see 50% reductions in fees compared to a single-family home, now costing $5,100 in city impact fees, plus water and sewer fees totaling about $7,755.

The plan was hatched to match or exceed the rules loosened on fees and unit size in the past year in Santa Rosa and in unincorporated Sonoma County — both of which waive fees up to 750 square feet and allow up 1,200 square feet. Last month, Petaluma also permanently adopted rules on granny units to incentivize their development.

With a desire to see housing built as quickly as possible in the wake of the October 2017 firestorm, each municipality has since seen a rise in permit requests to build the smaller housing type, including 118 in Santa Rosa in 2018, up from 33 in 2017.

Just 54 granny units have been built in Healdsburg since 2000, according to a study by the city’s housing action committee, with 30 permits issued over the past four years. The group set a goal of 125 more of the housing type by 2022, and the City Council was spurred on by members of the public at the regular meeting Monday night to pursue the most lenient rules possible.

“I’m hearing that 850 (square feet) is good, and it happens to be larger than the county and larger than the neighboring cities,” said Councilman Shaun McCaffery. “So I think that’s good we’re kind of pushing the envelope on this.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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