College Area

‘Granny Flat' Eyesore: Complaints About Oversize Backyard Projects

College Area Community Council formally calls for a moratorium on San Diego's accessory-dwelling-unit ordinance.

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Starting last November, the city of San Diego eased restrictions on the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADU’s) -- commonly referred to as "granny flats" -- at least in part to help ease the local housing crunch.

Several neighborhood groups, however, it's not going well.

“This is really just market-rate housing stuck into people’s backyards by investors," said Geoffrey Hueter, chairman of the group Neighbors for a Better San Diego. "In many cases, what’s happened is these are being redeveloped, and turned into actually market-rate rentals. They’re often in places where they replace affordable housing."

The College Area Community Council was the first local planning group to ask the city to declare a moratorium on the ADU ordinance. Other residents in Kensington, Talmadge, Rolando and El Cerrito have signed a petition calling for a moratorium as well.

At issue is the size and scope of many of the projects. The expectation for a granny flat would be an unobtrusive, small unit tucked away in the backyard of a single-family house, according to Hueter. Several ADU’s in the College Area currently under construction, however, extend well above the existing property.

The ADU’s have become investor-driven projects, Hueter said, adding that there are similar projects in other neighborhoods.

“I’d call them a granny tower, not a granny flat,” Hueter said. “These have really turned into investor-owned, massive projects without any consistency within the neighborhood, without any concern for the character of the neighborhood. The owners probably aren’t even going to live here."

Hueter and other community members are hopeful a moratorium would give the city a chance to hear and address neighborhood concerns.

The city’s current ordinance allows for unlimited ADU’s within Transit Priority Areas, which refers to ADU’s that are built within a half mile of planned or existing transit lines. The ordinance also, in part, waives infrastructure fees for developers.

“Because of the way this has all been marketed as granny flats, most people aren’t aware of the scope of what’s possible," Hueter said. "As more of these get built, I think people get more of an idea of what’s happening."

According to a city spokesperson, 386 ADU’s were built in 2020. Compare that to nine in 2016.

“Over the years, the state has enacted dozens of laws regarding accessory dwelling units and junior ADU’s," a representative for the city told NBC 7. "The city is implementing state law, including the requirement to incentivize affordable ADU’s. ADU’s and JADU’s are an effective, successful source of naturally occurring affordable housing."

Later in the day, another statement was sent to NBC 7 from the San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria's deputy chief of staff, Nick Serrano:

“Increasing the supply of housing is not going to happen overnight – it will take time. With young people and seniors increasingly wondering whether they can afford to stay in their hometown, we should absolutely take steps to try and build more naturally affordable housing, like ADUs, which working people can actually afford. This is what SB 9 helps to do.”

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