JUNE 2018

Villa Park accessory dwellings streamlined, with strings

By Tina Richards

The Villa Park City Council OK’d a revised accessory dwelling unit ordinance that two council members say imposes discriminatory restrictions on property owners who have, or plan to build, a “granny flat” next to their residence.

Under the new ordinance, residents who have an auxiliary unit separate from their primary house will be required to live in one of them. And if one of the dwellings is a rental, it must be offered for a minimum 30-day period. That is, it cannot be rented out for a few days or a few weeks. In contrast, homeowners with just one house on their property are not required to live there, and are free to rent it out for any time period they wish.

The city’s Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinance, which has been in effect since 2005, was updated to meet new state legislation designed to make it easier for property owners to build second units. California’s more relaxed regulations are intended to provide affordable housing options to address the state’s housing shortage. The state mandated some revised regulations, and offered guidelines that cities had the discretion to include in their updated ADU ordinances, or not.

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Non-negotiable mandates dictate that cities must allow secondary units to be carved out of existing space on a residential property. There are no occupancy requirements; fire sprinklers and separate utility hook-ups are not required. Cities can demand an additional parking space for the unit, unless it is near public transportation. While ADU’s must still meet code requirements, the review and approval process cannot include conditional use permits or public hearings. The state mandates, however, may be overruled, based on public health or safety factors, or if the locations are within a very high fire zone.

The state’s default standards also include the prohibition of short-term rentals, and the requirement that the property owner live in one of the units. Those provisions, however, fall to the municipality. A city can choose not to include those stipulations in its revised ADU ordinance, but remain in compliance with the state.

Villa Park’s revised ordinance went back and forth over four council meetings. First presented in February, it was described by consultant John Douglas as a “conservative approach that stuck to state standards.” It included owner occupancy and no short-term rentals. Diana Fascenelli objected to those requirements, noting that neither had appeared in the city’s 2005 ordinance. The council continued the item until March.

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In March, Fascenelli again raised the owner occupancy issue, stressing that the city should not be telling homeowners where they have to live, that many already rented their homes and lived elsewhere. Robbie Pitts said that the homeowner should be living on site if the auxiliary unit was rented. “If there’s a problem, I want to knock on the door and talk to the owner,” he said, suggesting that if both residences were rented, there would be no one on site who was responsible. The council voted 4-1 to delete the owner occupancy clause, with Pitts voting “no.”

Likewise, the short-term rental stipulation was challenged by Fascenelli, with Nelson agreeing that it was unnecessary and too restrictive for residents. Vince Rossini supported it, noting that the city received complaints about short-term rentals, and that they should be curtailed.  The vote to remove that item was 4-1, with Rossini dissenting.

The revised ordinance reappeared on the council’s April agenda. Pitts reported his disappointment that the owner occupancy clause had been removed. Rossini agreed, and suggested that it and the short-term rental prohibition be reinstated. The council voted 3 (Rossini, Pitts, Collacott) to 2 (Fascenelli, Nelson) to reinstate the language that had been voted out the previous month.

You can never leave
At its May 22 meeting, the council finalized the revised ordinance that included the two in-out-back-in clauses by a 3 to 2 vote that mirrored the April decision. “I want this to be clear to everyone,” Fascenelli said, “that this ordinance says that a residence with a granny flat shall be for the exclusive use of the owner. Forever.” If you add another unit, she clarified, you have to live in one of them until you sell your property. You can’t rent both of them, even to family members or your kids, if you want to retire somewhere else. “Why force a homeowner to stay there?”

And short term rentals? “We allow short-term rentals on single-family properties," she pointed out, "but not if there’s a granny flat. If we don’t want short-term rentals, we should put that on the agenda. Pass an ordinance that applies to everyone, not just people with a second unit.”

She also noted that in March there was a majority vote to remove those references, but in April, “the mayor switched his vote. What happened?” she asked.

Nelson also objected to the reinstatement of those restrictions. “I thought we were trying to make accessory dwellings easier,” he said. “We’re making it harder. I don’t like taking people’s property rights away. And short-term rentals should relate to the whole city.”

“The code is devoid of discussion on short-term rentals,” Rossini added. “They are business enterprises, and I don’t think they are appropriate. They should be agendized.”