San Diego accelerates ‘granny flat’ construction by accepting pre-approved designs
Shared By Sarah Scott | Scott Finn & Associates
City officials say they hope the simplified, less expensive process will encourage more people to build granny flats, which are additional housing units on an existing residential property.
Granny flats, which city officials formally call “companion units,” are being viewed in San Diego and across the nation as a quick way to create more housing without more land or infrastructure.
The city’s decision to begin allowing pre-approved design plans is the latest in a series of efforts to streamline granny flat approvals that appears to be having a major impact.
Over the last four years, the number of granny flat applications received by the city increased from 19 in 2016, to 142 in 2017, to 409 in 2018 and to 480 through the first 10 months of this year.
“We’re doing everything we can to make it easier and cheaper to build housing here in San Diego,” said Mayor Kevin Faulconer. “Granny flats are exploding in popularity thanks to our housing reforms, and now residents can build them for less with pre-approved plans that will ensure the permitting process is quick and efficient.”
The new policy comes three months after San Diego created a 42-page granny flat handbook summarizing options for property owners so they could see conceptual floor plans and determine what would fit well on their property.
Allowing pre-approved design plans could be viewed as the next logical step after the creation of the handbook, said Gary Geiler, deputy director of the city’s Development Services Department.
Here’s what to know about how to use it.
“We’ve been exploring what some of the last hurdles are and what are some options,” Geiler said by phone this week.
“The pre-design phase takes time and is costly. Hiring a design professional or architect to do the plans can range from $5,000 to $15,000, depending on what you want to do.”
San Diego will now allow property owners to choose one of several design plans created by the county government and the city of Encinitas to accelerate granny flat construction.
“They have the floor plans, elevations, roof plans — everything that’s needed for a building permit,” Geiler said. “People can download those and they are permit-ready.”
San Diego has also streamlined the approval process by making it “over the counter,” meaning a property owner can secure all the approvals necessary to build a granny flat in one day by visiting the Development Services Department downtown.
“Somebody can come in and have their plans reviewed the same day, so they don’t have to wait as long as two weeks to get their plan corrections back,” Geiler said.
Appointments can be made by calling (619) 446-5300.
Because every property comes with different dynamics and constraints, there may be some additional site-specific technical plans and calculations that will be required.
Granny flats are considered ideal for recent college graduates, young people with lower-paying jobs and the senior citizens on fixed incomes who gave these units their colorful name.
In addition to boosting the local housing supply, granny flats generate income for homeowners, decreasing the likelihood they will struggle to pay their mortgage.
City regulations prohibit renting out a granny flat for less than 30 days, to avoid the units being used as short-term vacation rentals.
Some community leaders have raised concerns about the impact of granny flats on street parking. Geiler said many property owners provide parking on-site for the granny flats they’ve added.
A recent analysis of the city’s 236,000 single-family detached homes estimated that 2,700 to 5,500 granny flats could be built during the next decade.
The city’s efforts build on state legislation three years ago that eased parking regulations and rules requiring large buffer areas between structures and property lines.
San Diego has since eliminated sewer and water fees, shrunk development fees and loosened zoning regulations for granny flats.
Because some fees, such as those covering school construction, couldn’t be waived under state law, San Diego also established a subsidy program during the fiscal year that ended June 30.
The $300,000 set aside for the program was quickly exhausted and played a role in the construction of 84 granny flats across the city, so the City Council more than doubled funding to $800,000 for the fiscal year that began July 1.
The city’s granny flat handbook can be found here: https://www.sandiego.gov/sites/default/files/2019-companion-unit-handbook.pdf
The city’s granny flat webpage, which includes the pre-approved designs, is here: https://www.sandiego.gov/department/companionjunior-units
Written by: DAVID GARRICK