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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

ZORACES Discusses Pilot Amnesty Program for Second Units

• Staff Report Indicates That Existing Rental Units Could Help City to Meet Low-Income Housing Requirements

BY BILL KOENEKER

The details of a proposed proposed Second Unit Amnesty Program were revealed  when the council’s Zoning Ordinance Revisions and Code Enforcement Subcommittee, or ZORACES, discussed the matter this week based on a staff report prepared by the city’s planning department.
Councilmembers John Sibert and Skylar Peak comprise the subcommittee and met Tuesday morning.
The intent of such a program would be to increase the city's stock of second units to provide affordable low-income housing opportunities, housing by creating incentives to legalize uncounted housing stock, according to city officials.
City planner Stefanie Edmondson indicated in the staff report that the program is intended to ensure that existing residential second units are safe and habitable, that they help meet the goals and objectives of the General Plan Housing Element, assist in meeting the city’s housing needs (as determined by the Regional Housing Needs Assessment) by increasing the stock of legal and affordable housing, and encourage the development and permitting of second residential units.
“The program, if adopted, would provide a limited time frame that would allow owners of unpermitted units to register and legalize their accessory dwelling and ensure that the units are in compliance with the required health and safety codes,” wrote Edmondson, in her staff report.
The subcommittee previously discussed a potential amnesty program in March and at that meeting, the panel requested staff obtain additional information related to the success and implementation of these programs in other municipalities.
The Malibu planner contacted various municipalities and told council members Tuesday morning what she had found. She based her remarks on five communities that have implemented amnesty programs.
The City of Fairfax, Marin County, City of San Carlos, City of San Rafael and the City of Ventura have all incorporated amnesty programs.
The majority of programs require that the unit be constructed prior to the adoption of the current Housing Element and the property owner must be the resident of either the primary or secondary unit, Edmondson noted.
The secondary unit must meet building and safety standards. The building size varies from 320 to 1000 square feet.
In Malibu the maximum size of a second unit is 900 square feet. That could be changed by a Local Coastal Program amendment.
Another consideration is that some properties contain more than one second unit, and city planners are discussing allowing more than one second unit.
“This option would require amendments to both the LCP and the Malibu municipal code. The city could also limit multiple second units to lots greater than a certain size, for example two acres.
However, none of the five cities surveyed allowed more than one second unit to be permitted per property,” the staff report stated.
“All of the cities contacted require that the second unit created through the second amnesty program be designated for residential use. Second units created under the program were not allowed to be used for short stays, tourists or bed and breakfast purposes.”
At the previous ZORACES meeting, there was a discussion about deed restricting the units to an only residential use or for rent only at affordable prices.
Edmondson recalled the concern related to the practicality of requiring a deed restriction, which was raised because of the potential that such a requirement would be viewed as detrimental to the property's value and a potential constraint on future financing.
“Staff contacted a mortgage banking firm and confirmed that deed restriction could negatively affect a property's value. Staff sees such a requirement as having the potential to discourage participation in the program and recommends that it not be incorporated.”
Another issue involves non-conforming second units. The staff report indicates that much of the city's older development is in conformance with the previous Los Angeles County zoning ordinances, but that it may not conform to current development standards set forth in the LCP and city code.
“Therefore, many of the units that could come forward for permitting under a future amnesty program would be considered non-conforming. Currently the [code] allows for the repair and maintenance of non-conforming structures that were legally established prior to the city's incorporation,” she noted.
According to Edmondson, the city could approach the issue in two ways. “One way would be to grandfather the non-conforming units that were constructed prior to the adoption of the Malibu code in 1993 or the second option would be to require the second units to conform to the current standards set forth in the Malibu code and LCP,” she said.
Two cities confirmed that the second units approved under the amnesty program must conform to the current zoning ordinances. Ventura allows for zoning modifications to permit the units, with the provision of additional fees.
None of the five jurisdictions waived the fees for permitting second units through an amnesty program. One of the cities reduced fees by 50 percent as an incentive. “A common incentive is to waive the code enforcement fees for the units if applications were filed during the time the amnesty program was active,” the staff report added.
Success was mixed for cities. Fairfax city officials stated that the project was not successful due to parking and interior fire sprinkler requirements.
Both Ventura and Marin found the program to be successful. San Carlos found success in an amnesty program, though in that city it was not being used to meet affordable housing requirements.
San Rafael noticed modest progress as additional units were legalized between 2007 and 2008 under Marin County's program.
Subcommittee members were told their recommendations will be incorporated in language for a draft amnesty ordinance. The draft may be forwarded to the planning commission for review and recommendations before going to the city council for possible adoption.
The subcommittee also discussed multi-family units and zoning and how changes could possibly help housing needs.

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