Encinitas presents options for accessory dwelling units

The City of Encinitas has aimed to make it easier for people to build accessory dwelling units and for the city to increase its amount of low-income housing.

City staff and two architects presented "shovel-ready" designs for the small homes, commonly referred to as "ADUs" or "granny flats," at a meeting Tuesday, Jan. 22. About 200 residents attended the meeting, causing the city to have to hold it in two separate rooms and offer two presentations. Previously, the meeting had only been planned for the 80-person-capacity Poinsettia room.

City planning officials said the pre-approved designs, which homeowners can build on their existing properties, could save people up to six months of time and up to $14,000 in construction-related expenses. The city also is waiving some permit fees, which could add up to $4,000 in cost savings, they said.

On Tuesday, two Encinitas-based architects — Yvonne St. Pierre of Design Path Studio and Bart Smith of DZN Partners — presented their concepts, ranging from studios to three-bedroom units.

St. Pierre, who recently built a granny flat at her in-laws’ home, said she sympathized with the common fees people would have to pay for such structures without the city’s program.

"I understand what homeowners are up against," St. Pierre said. "When you go to get a bank loan, you only get a certain amount of money. ... It got me thinking that people really need to have options."

St. Pierre's designs include:

  • A 350-square-foot studio with a combined living and sleeping room; kitchen; washer and dryer; walk-in closet; and bathroom.
  • A 555-square-foot one-bedroom unit with a washer and dryer; one bathroom; kitchen; living room; and covered patio.
  • A 745-square-foot two-bedroom unit with two bathrooms, including one master; washer and dryer; kitchen; living room; and entry porch.
  • A 935-square-foot three-bedroom unit with two bathrooms, including one master; washer and dryer; kitchen; living room; and covered patio.

Each of the units can be converted from the previous, smaller size, should someone want to upgrade it.

Smith also offered four options:

  • A 224-square-foot studio with a combined living and sleeping room; one bathroom; loft for storage; and a kitchen.
  • A 499-square-foot one-bedroom unit with one bedroom; a living room; a nook; one bathroom; washer and dryer; and a kitchen. Smith said he strategically sized the space at 499 square feet so the homeowner could avoid school fees, which are implemented for structures 500 square feet or larger.
  • A 990-square-foot two-bedroom unit with two bathrooms; a living room; washer and dryer; and a kitchen.
  • A 1,199-square-foot three-bedroom unit with three bathrooms; a living room; nook; washer and dryer; and a kitchen.

One resident shared concerns that the structures would look like "large chicken coops" and would not appear compatible with the main homes. The architects and staff said design options are being offered to best fit the site. St. Pierre and Smith also each offer finishing and roofing options so all the units don't look identical and so the homeowner can have some preferences.

The city is pursuing the program as part of a multi-pronged effort to increase its supply of low-income housing and meet state mandates. Encinitas is the only city in the county and one of just a few in the state that lacks a current, state-certified Housing Element plan spelling out how it proposes to handle its future housing needs, particularly those of low-income people.

The city's lack of a plan has been the source of multiple lawsuits, and in December a Superior Court judge ordered Encinitas to get a plan approved within 120 days. The city's latest proposed plan, which details what properties in town will be upzoned to accommodate higher-density housing projects, is currently being reviewed by state officials.

Changes to city ordinances making it easier to build these accessory dwelling units won City Council approval last spring and state Coastal Commission approval in December, a city staff report states.

Under city codes, people can add one, separate accessory dwelling unit that's up to 1,200 square feet, as long as the property's primary residence is larger than that size. If it is not, then the accessory structure cannot be larger than the property's primary residence.

In addition to the accessory units, property owners also can build a "junior accessory unit" of no more than 500 square feet, but that unit needs to be attached to the main house, city paperwork indicates.

However, because of language in the ordinance that says the ADU can only be added to single-family residences, such structures cannot be added to duplex sites. The units must also be rented for a minimum of 30 days, eliminating the option for them to be used as short-term rentals. Property owners must provide one parking space for the ADU renter unless the unit is within a half-mile of public transit, created within the area of an existing building or within a historic district.

City staff expects people can begin inquiring about and requesting the structures sometime in February. So far, the city has not placed any restrictions on the amount of ADUs they will permit in Encinitas.

The city will also host an open house event, where people can learn more about the units and program, on Jan. 28 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Updates on the ADU program can be found on the city's website at http://www.encinitasca.gov/adu, where people can also sign up for email notifications.

-- San Diego Union-Tribune freelance reporter Barbara Henry contributed to this report.

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