Under state laws meant to boost the housing supply, cities are revamping their codes to make way for accessory dwelling units: granny flats. They're also finding ways to restrict them, as some Coronado residents argued last week.
On September 19, the city council put its proposed rules up for discussion, with residents calling out high sewer fees and restrictions on homeowners near the traffic-choked bridge corridor. As for not allowing the native carriage house to be converted to an adjacent dwelling unit?
"I think the city is all wrong on that," said Adella Lane resident David Spooney. "That's a loser for the city," a lawsuit waiting. "The term ‘carriage house’ is a Coronado thing."
A carriage house is a detached garage on an alley with a livable unit on the second story. The city considers the entire structure an "accessory building" and requires homeowners to sign a covenant that limits its uses. But given the new state laws, Spooney thinks they should tear up the old covenant and allow full-time living.
A stove is the magic feature that could turn a 400-square-foot pumpkin into a regular dwelling. Coronado senior planner Jesse Brown says a carriage house can have a bathroom and shower but is not permitted to have a kitchen.
A bigger roadblock for homeowners who want to make them legal dwellings is that Coronado's old code prohibits their use as a separate rental. "Homeowners must sign a covenant saying that they will not install a kitchen and they will not rent out the carriage house," Brown says.
There are already plenty of the above-garage quarters in town. And they are the only development allowed over a garage. While they can still be built, only residents or their guests can live in them; an upsetting fact to resident Suzanne Faye, who told the council she bought a house with the intent to build an accessory dwelling above a garage. It wouldn't use yard space or require new parking, she argued.
Another resident, Mary Carlson, said the ordinance encourages people to build a bigger house with an attached second unit, rather than keep a smaller home that already has a detached carriage house. "Why not put a restriction on all the oversized houses being built all over town?" she asked. "If we want to prevent overbuilding, shouldn't we allow [accessory dwelling units] over a garage?"
Although state law includes carriage houses as options for second dwelling units, Brown said cities can still limit their conversion. Local control options include the unit's size, geographic location, number of parking spaces, and transient and owner occupancy.
The city adopted several staff recommendations for the accessory dwelling ordinance: whether attached or detached, the units can't exceed 800 square feet; they must provide one parking space per bedroom; a historical alterations permit is required for historic homes; and the old carriage-house rules prevail — no renting granny flats over garages.
The city did bow to residents on A, B, and C avenues between 3rd and 4th streets, tossing the planning commission's recommendation to prevent them from adding a unit due to the extra traffic. Mayor Richard Bailey said the traffic, which the city has been unable to reduce, doesn't even originate on those streets.
"That's our failing. Why penalize these folks?"
The required separate utility hookup may also be revised. The fee would be a percentage of the standard one, which Brown said is $6358 for a single-family house. Staff proposed applying the same wastewater fee assessed for a hotel room with kitchenette; about 60 percent less than the single-family home fee.
Coronado realtor Jon Palmieri blasted the requirement, saying it's unfair to portray the cost of a separate connection as just a reduced city fee, when the total amount can exceed $20,000. The city fee is just a small chunk of the total cost, which doesn’t include tapping into the city sewer line, adding water meters, and more, he said.
"The state [accessory dwelling unit] law seems to be clear about not requiring overburdensome costs," he said, even if the city does have leeway. Carriage houses are exempt from the separate sewer costs, yet many have the same or greater impact on city infrastructure, he said.
So why not make carriage houses legal second dwellings? Brown said it's because no other development is allowed in that area of the lot (above a garage), and city regulations prohibit cooking in a carriage house or renting it out.
Short-term rentals, which aren't allowed in Coronado's residential zones, were an acknowledged threat under the new state law. "The city already does not do a great job of enforcing our existing ordinance," Mayor Bailey said in support of stretching a 26-day minimum to six months or so for granny flats.
Councilmember Carrie Downey suggested making it one year. "I think the vast majority of people that want to do this are doing it because they're going to flip them," she said. They want 26 days, they're going to rent them out. "I don’t think there's a need for more of that in our community."