Commission to Approve Granny Unit Change

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

February 10, 2022

The Coastal Commission was expected to approve at its meetings this week, a new amendment to the Local Coastal Program in Los Osos and Cambria to match relaxed State laws on secondary dwelling units or ADUs.

The County sought the LCP amendment for both North Coast communities but the Commission was mainly concerned with Los Osos, as it has issues mostly concerning water supplies that complicate the matter greatly.

“San Luis Obispo County,” reads the Commission staff report, “proposes to modify the Local Coastal Program’s Land Use Plan (LUP) and Implementation Plan (IP) to modify existing regulations governing accessory dwelling units, including to update the LCP consistent with recent changes to state housing law.”

Change Would Match State Law

The main changes have to do with streamlining the ADU permit processes, “namely those having to do with minimum parcel size, property line setbacks, Junior ADUs , allow for both an ADU and a JADU on a single residential parcel, allow for ADUs in several new land use categories (including in agricultural and multi-family residential land use categories), and modify parking requirements by eliminating off-street parking for all ADUs throughout the County’s coastal zone.” JADU refers to granny units under 500 square feet, or so-called mini-homes. But it’s never so easy in Los Osos. 

“However,” the Commission report reads, “…the proposed amendment does not adequately address certain geographically specific coastal resource issues and constraints that apply in parts of San Luis Obispo County, particularly related to more rural/agricultural lands, water supply and public service capacities, and public coastal access ways.

“In other words, the proposed amendment requires additional tailoring on these points to appropriately facilitate ADU development without significant adverse resource impacts in these specific areas. In light of these concerns, Commission staff engaged in a productive dialogue with County staff on potential solutions, and reached a consensus on a modified approach.”

County Zoning Issues

The County Zoning Ordinance doesn’t allow ADUs on ag-zoned lands and the change would allow them. Essentially, the change would allow both ADUs and JADUs as well as “guesthouses” on ag land, which the Commission thinks could lead to residential uses.

“While well intentioned,” the report reads, “the end result would be to encourage additional residential units in more rural and agricultural areas, as opposed to more developed parts of the County where such units can be adequately served. If not better controlled, this would lead to non-agricultural development that would likely adversely impact agriculture.”

Also, “as proposed, the amendment does not differentiate between areas with significant service constraints and those where infill development can likely be accommodated without significant coastal resource impacts. In particular, the lack of a sustainable water supply in Cambria and Los Osos is well known to the Commission and the County. 

“There, even existing water extractions to serve existing development has led to coastal resource degradation [e.g., groundwater overdraft, seawater intrusion, fishery impacts, ESHA degradation, etc.], and both communities continue to be designated a Level of Severity III under the LCP in terms of water supply.”

Water Woes Compounded

With both Cambria and Los Osos having tight water supplies, the Commission report says AUDs will only add to the problem. Therefore, “suggested modifications are included to not allow for ADUs in Los Osos and Cambria for the time being.”

Assuming the Commissioners approved the County’s LCP amendment, the matter would have to come back to Supervisors for a final OK before going into effect, usually 45 days later. 

But don’t start dreaming of putting in a rental unit to help pay the mortgage just yet, the County is still not handing out building permits in Los Osos or Cambria for that matter, due to the potential impacts on the water supply.

 The proposed amendment generally provides for relaxed ADU (including JADU) development standards consistent with State Law (e.g., reduced setbacks, excluding ADUs from lot coverage and density calculations, etc.), all of which are aimed at facilitating ADU construction in the County, including to help create more housing opportunities. 

The changes proposed are mostly straightforward and should help to facilitate the development of ADUs. And since the LCP’s existing tools to address core coastal resource issues (e.g., related to ESHA, wetlands, riparian corridors, public views, natural landforms, coastal hazards, etc.) remain in effect, the LCP as proposed to be amended should serve to ensure ADUs are appropriately sited and designed in most cases, according to the Commission report.

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