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One Granny Flat Policy Does Not Fit All of San Diego

While the city’s new policy, meant to streamline the process, ease regulations and get more granny flats built in San Diego, is the right move for many neighborhoods, it’s not a good fit for the College Area.

Granny flats, or second, small homes or apartments built on the same lot as existing single-family homes, are an important piece of the housing puzzle. If used as intended, they will not have an extreme negative impact on San Diego’s neighborhoods.

CommentaryMy son and his wife live in a granny flat. Granny flats are great for young couples, families and individuals getting started, since they’re often more affordable than other homes and apartments. My other son has a granny flat in which my husband and I may live when we’re older – another one of the intended purposes of these accessory units. These uses are widely cited as the reasons granny flats should be encouraged. The goal is to help San Diego residents find affordable housing.

But while the city’s new policy, meant to streamline the process, ease regulations and get more granny flats built in San Diego, is the right move for many neighborhoods, it’s not a good fit for the College Area. I’m not opposed to granny flats in the College Area, but communities like ours that are already impacted by extra density in single-family neighborhoods need some variation in the new policy for protection.

Many “mini dorm” landlords here are pushing the limits to maximize the number of allowable bedrooms. Their de facto college dormitories have six bedrooms and a den or bonus room, which, in the College Area, will be used as a bedroom for a student. This creates seven-bedroom homes on lots limited to six bedrooms.

A real concern is that such a six- or seven-bedroom house, if one story, could add a 1,200 square-foot, five-bedroom companion unit as a second story under the new streamlined granny flat policy, potentially creating a massive 11-12 bedroom home on a single-family property. That may sound absurd to someone from another part of the city, but the College Area already has a number of nine- and 10-bedroom houses in its single-family zones.

In one part of the College Area, there are, for example, two mini-dorms next door to each other, and another immediately across the street. Each has seven bedrooms on a mini-dorm-dense street. Should each of those add a second-story companion unit, there could be up to 36 bedrooms clustered near one another.

Add to this the likelihood that at least some of those bedrooms will be shared, a common practice among cost-conscious young adults and students, and we could end up with 50 individuals living in one small area. Many of these tenants will have cars, but no additional parking spaces will be available since the city’s new granny flat ordinance requires no additional parking space if the unit is close to transit, which virtually all the College Area is.

The City Council must find some way to recognize that one size does not fit all in San Diego. Already impacted communities, such as the College Area, should not be further impacted by a granny flat ordinance that doesn’t take neighborhood differences into account.

Ann Cottrell lives in the College Area. Cottrell’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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