Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

The City Council increased the maximum allowable size for Accessory Dwelling Units on large lots Tuesday, increasing the allowable floor area from 650 square feet to 800 square feet on lots larger than 6,000 square feet. The Council also removed a 250 square foot restriction for second floor ADUs to allow homeowners to build apartments above their garages.

The average ADU submitted for plan check in the city is between 350 to 550 square feet, according to a recent report from the City’s Planning Department. Also known as a granny flat, casita, or in-law unit, an ADU is a second home on a lot with a full kitchen and bathroom. A recent state law aims to simplify the process of building them to ease the housing crisis by allowing homeowners to become landlords.

“A number of inquiries from the public have been received about the construction of potential new ADUs of approximately 800 square feet, but few building permit applications of this size for new ADUs have been submitted so far,” said the report by principal planner Tony Kim.

The new guidelines are intended to be temporary while city staff refines the zoning rules for neighborhoods with only single family homes (R1). Earlier this year, the Council approved a temporary anti-mansion ordinance to limit the size of new construction. In an effort to encourage more housing, the Council exempted ADUs from parcel coverage restrictions.

A few months later, city staff drafted a recommendation to increase the allowable size of ADUs from 650 square feet to 1,200 square feet. Anti-mansion activists worried the new size would provide a tantalizing loophole to developers hoping to get around new limits on the height and square footage of new homes. Other residents balk at the concept of increasing density in R1 neighborhoods that do not otherwise allow multifamily buildings.

“Most people in California are aware that the state is facing an affordable housing shortage and a shortage of housing for our homeless residents and want government to address this critical problem, as I do. But, turning a single family neighborhood into a more densely populated one is not an effective, practical, realistic, or logical way to address or help solve the problem,” said Sunset Park resident Brad Pollack in a letter to the City Council.

After a lengthy discussion Tuesday, the Council voted to limit the size to 800 square feet for large lots in order to retain the character of Santa Monica neighborhoods.

Under current regulations, an ADU must be subordinate to the primary residence. While the Council debated whether to create a sliding scale, in which an ADU can be no larger than a certain percentage of the total size of the lot, planning staff urged them to avoid adding complexity in the midst of an interim ordinance.

“Our advice is keep it simple,” said City Manager Rick Cole.

City staff is currently drafting new, permanent rules for construction in R1 neighborhoods. Cole says they hope to come back to Council with a suggested ordinance in the next twelve to eighteen months.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press