Almanac

News - June 12, 2013

Legal granny units coming to Menlo Park

by Sandy Brundage

Granny's got a new place to stay, or at least she will, once the Menlo Park City Council concludes its authorization of secondary, aka "in-law," aka "granny," units.

The council voted 3-2, with Kirsten Keith and Ray Mueller dissenting, during its June 4 meeting to introduce an update to the city's laws that will legalize building granny units on lots of at least 6,000 square feet.

How many bedrooms allowed, distance between homes and whether owners wanting to reduce that distance through smaller setbacks should have to get approval from neighboring property owners all came up for discussion.

In the end, the council opted to allow one secondary unit of up to 640 square feet of living space per lot, with one bathroom and either a single bedroom or a studio configuration. Each unit must have at least 10-foot setbacks, reducible to 5 feet with written approval from the owners of bordering properties. Walls may climb up to 9 feet, unless located in a flood zone where construction can go higher if necessary, and a maximum total height of 17 feet for the entire granny unit.

Parking may be handled by either putting cars behind one another, within a side yard, or in the front yard if no more than 500 square feet, including driveways, is paved.

The ordinance also requires that the property owner live either in the main house or the granny unit.

Council members Kirsten Keith and Ray Mueller opposed involving neighbor approval for smaller setbacks, instead favoring having the property owner apply for a variance through the city — a more expensive route, but possibly more likely to maintain harmonious relationships between neighbors.

The new regulations came about as part of an update to the city's housing plan as required by a lawsuit settlement over the city's failure to comply with state housing law for the past 10 years. To catch up, Menlo Park has to find sites where zoning changes could allow construction of about 900 new housing units, with 454 units dedicated to affordable housing.

The council was expected to pass the ordinance at its June 11 meeting; it will then take effect in 30 days.

See AlmanacNews.com for an update on the meeting, which occurred after the newspaper went to press.

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