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Menlo Park works on 'granny unit' regs

The Menlo Park Planning Commission continued its quest to figure out how to encourage construction of secondary units, also known as "granny units," while simultaneously preventing the proliferation of miniature real estate empires built in one's backyard.

During a study session held on Feb. 10, Commissioner Katie Ferrick took issue with a clause in the granny unit ordinance that requires the owner to live on the property. She pointed out that residents may move at some point in the future after building a secondary unit, but not want to sell the property. So why not let them rent out both the main and the granny unit?

Ms. Ferrick said the rule treats renters as second-class citizens and something to be afraid of. "And I don't like it; it's elitist," she said.

Commission chair John Kadvany passed along the concerns of a neighbor that was worried that having no owner present would lead to "half-baked" granny unit construction and not benefit the neighborhood.

The rule does present a disincentive to building granny units, according to Commissioner Ben Eiref, who said the spirit of the process was supposed to be encouraging construction.

With Mr. Kadvany dissenting, the commission voted 5-1, with Henry Riggs absent, to let city staff know they consider the clause too restrictive.

Also a disincentive: The cost of building a granny unit, Mr. Bressler said, which he estimated could easily reach $20,000 just for permits and similar fees.

Staff replied that fees will be reviewed by the City Council in March, which may choose to use money from the general fund to subsidize the cost. However, other associated costs, such as school impact, fire district and sanitary district fees, aren't up to the city.

Other considerations included whether to reduce the required minimum lot size for a secondary unit to 5,750 square feet; allowing accessory buildings, such as garages, of up to 640 square feet to be converted to granny units; and limiting the number and type of plumbing fixtures to two within an accessory building to differentiate those buildings from secondary units. If a structure has three types -- such as a toilet, sink and shower -- it would then count as a habitable, i.e. granny, unit. The classification matters in terms of determining the size of the required setbacks.

The process of fine-tuning the granny unit ordinance will continue; such units must have a kitchen, for example, but as staff noted, the city then needs to define what counts as a kitchen.

Comments

Posted by Amy Sung, a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2014 at 12:50 am

Menlo Park really is trying its best to encourage the granny units with a possibility to reduce permit fees, reduce the lot size requirement, redefine what constitutes a kitchen, and on and on.

This might be cool ways for those grown and flown adult children to move back!


Posted by Martin, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 20, 2014 at 12:46 pm

How on earth could it "cost $20,000 just for permits and similar fees"? To say that may be a disincentive is an understatement. Once again, it's only the affluent or still working residents who could even afford to pay those fees on top of building costs. As a retired person, I would welcome the opportunity to have some extra income, but, because of the of those fees, I doubt that there would be any profit for me after paying property taxes and maintenance expenses.

Incidentally, would there be a separate meter for utilities or would that have to be calculated from one utility bill?

Further, I do think it is a legitimate concern that the home owner would not be required to live on the property. Many condo developments limit the number of units that can be rented and for good reason. Absentee landlords don't have the same incentive to choose the best of tenants and to address any problems that arise.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 21, 2014 at 1:05 pm

How on earth could it "cost $20,000 just for permits and similar fees"? To say that may be a disincentive is an understatement. Once again, it's only the affluent or still working residents who could even afford to pay those fees on top of building costs. As a retired person, I would welcome the opportunity to have some extra income, but, because of the of those fees, I doubt that there would be any profit for me after paying property taxes and maintenance expenses.
***************************************************************************

I don't know how it could possibly cost that much but the fees will effectively shut out all but the affluent and working residents, as you stated. Retirees need not apply.


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