120517 council

The Santa Maria City Council voted Tuesday night to amend the city’s municipal code regarding accessory dwelling units in the city.

Per state law, homeowners in Santa Maria will be able to build, convert or install additional living units on their property to generate rental income.

On Tuesday, however, the City Council voted unanimously to restrict the number of units allowed to one, citing quality of life and parking issues.

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a series of bills into law making it easier for property owners to create accessory dwelling units as a means to address the shortage of housing in the state. The new laws also restrict how local governments can control the units, prompting the council discussion. Such units are not currently permitted in Santa Maria.

The council's main concern with allowing owners to build additional living spaces on their property is that it will change the housing density guidelines set in the city’s residential zones. More housing units mean more people and more cars in neighborhoods.

“I think this is a horrible law,” said Santa Maria City Councilman Michael Moats. 

Said Councilman Mike Cordero, “If you have a stadium that holds 30,000 people and you put 50,000 people in it, you will have a problem.” 

The vote amends the city’s municipal code and sets specific rules in areas zoned R-1. In those districts, homeowners who add an accessory dwelling unit will have to live on the property alongside their tenants.

Also called in-law apartments or granny flats, accessory dwelling units are a secondary residential space and are generally created through the conversion of existing living space or garages in a single-family home. Such units can also be created by adding additional square footage to a single-family home or by building an entirely different structure on a home’s property.

A “tiny house,” built on a flat-bed trailer that is parked and connected to city services, like sewer and water, is also considered an accessory dwelling unit under the new state law.

Four to eight dwelling units are permitted per acre of land in R-1 zones. In R-2 zones, eight to 12 housing units are permitted per acre. In high density R-3 zones, 22 dwellings are permitted per acre.

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In some areas, the new rules could double those numbers.

“I believe this is one of the poorest ideas (state lawmakers) have ever had because of their inability to create affordable housing,” said Mayor Alice Patino.

“I think this is going to mess up R-1 zoning. There are people that want to live in R-1 areas. They don’t want people taking the house next door and increasing the density,” Moats added.

In addition to restricting the number of accessory dwelling units on a single property to one, Tuesday night’s vote requires those property owners who decide to convert their garages into an accessory dwelling unit to provide parking somewhere else on their property.

The council's decision is the opposite of what the city's Planning Commission recommended last month, when the commission voted 3-2 to remove any owner occupancy requirement.

The council’s vote affirmed the first reading of the ordinance. To become law, it will have to receive a second reading and vote, scheduled for Dec. 19. If approved, it will become law in late January.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.