News

Monday: Menlo Park Planning Commission reviews 'granny units'

The Planning Commission is in the throes of figuring out how to incorporate secondary units, also known as "granny units," into Menlo Park's housing landscape now that changes to the city's ordinances make their construction legal.

Part of the difficulty stems from dealing with existing units built without permits in a way that won't render them out of compliance, but also won't cost the owners thousands of dollars to bring the homes up to code, while simultaneously ensuring that anyone living in the units has a safe, sanitary home.

Sound complicated? It is. Click here to review the staff presentation of elements for the commissioners to examine.

Initial considerations include whether to reduce the required minimum lot size for a secondary unit to 5,750 square feet; allowing accessory buildings, such as garages, of up to 640 square feet to be converted to granny units; and whether limiting the number and type of plumbing fixtures within an accessory building is a good way to differentiate those buildings from secondary units.

Still in search of solutions, the commission held a study session on Jan. 27 and will continue its discussion on Feb. 10.

Sandy Brundage

Comments

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Posted by Teresa
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 5, 2014 at 2:43 pm

I hope granny cottages get approved. For me the biggest issue is parking. As it is, our streets are already lined with parked cars. So, there should be a requirement that off-street parking be provided.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 5, 2014 at 4:47 pm

The fees the City is proposing are so outrageous that it will be impossible for seniors to build granny units. I looked into this and was quoted $17,000 in fees before the first nail goes in, and that is in addition to the construction costs. I would suggest waiving the fees for seniors or greatly reducing them. After all, people building units would be providing the REQUIRED housing units for the City.


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Posted by Granny Unit Fan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 6, 2014 at 9:29 am

Why is the City of MP making it SO hard to build accessory structures or "granny units"? I'd take residential granny units or accessory structures ANYDAY over massive densely-populated, traffic-inducing, pollution-inducing non-residential/apartment/high-rise style overbuilt developments! Common sense in my book.


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Posted by follow the money
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 6, 2014 at 12:54 pm

There aren't any developers or deep pocket investors who stand to make money from these accessory units, so no rich people are taking the city planners out to dinner and pitching them. The city planners, for their part, see the units as a source of additional but unglamorous (won't look that impressive on the resume) work. Going through the permit process will take up staff time that could better spent at department retreats on the coast or parties in Napa. And unless the city charges a lot of money -- like $17,000 in fees -- the units aren't going to help Menlo Park's coffers.

Never mind that residents want the units. That's an unimportant detail when the real game is about politics, power, and money.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 6, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Posted by follow the money, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
34 minutes ago
There aren't any developers or deep pocket investors who stand to make money from these accessory units, so no rich people are taking the city planners out to dinner and pitching them. The city planners, for their part, see the units as a source of additional but unglamorous (won't look that impressive on the resume) work. Going through the permit process will take up staff time that could better spent at department retreats on the coast or parties in Napa. And unless the city charges a lot of money -- like $17,000 in fees -- the units aren't going to help Menlo Park's coffers.

Never mind that residents want the units. That's an unimportant detail when the real game is about politics, power, and money.>>>

Those of us that want the units would be doing the City a favor by building the units AT OUR OWN EXPENSE. Adding HUGE fees on top of the construction costs makes it impossible to do for most people, particularly the older residents. I would like to see the City waive all fees and perhaps provide grants or partial grants to enable these projects to go forward.

I would much rather see small second units sprinkled around the city than multi-unit apartment buildings.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by follow the money
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 6, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Based on what I heard at the last Planning Commission meeting, I think the commissioners are in favor of simplifying the process (and keeping the expenses low) for residents. They were disappointed that staff's plans seemed designed to discourage second units. Wouldn't we all rather have granny units than massive new residential buildings on El Camino? (And it's going to be one or the other because the city is required to add a lot more housing.)

Write the planning commissioners or come to the meeting and let them know that they need to do what's best for residents and our city going forward, not what is easiest for paid staff.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Barbara
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Feb 8, 2014 at 12:19 am

Why do issues that seem so obvious always take so long to come to a decision. Granny units seem to be the best and most obvious way for Menlo Park to meet it's housing requirements and avoid the over-building like we're seeing proposed and already built along El Camino. And with a lower fee, the added income might help seniors stay in their homes, or even perhaps provide a family member a place to live.

I vote for making granny units legal without charging an arm and a leg.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by balance
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 9, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Granny units make a lot of sense. There are costs related to approving them, and if people are upset about those costs they should tackle the reasons why. Is the process unnecessarily complex? Are only a few granny projects making all projects more costly?

As these become legal, the city must ensure that they are bot safe for inhabitants and neighbors, and also that they won't adversely affect neighbors. There are setback rules and daylight planes for a reason. Granny units should comply with these rules.


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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 9, 2014 at 4:46 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

One of the big fees that you get hit with when you build anything that increases square footage that increases bedrooms is school fees. they can be quite substantial. If the city really wants to encourage these units as a way of increasing the housing stock they need to find a way to mitigate these fees.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by tom h
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 10, 2014 at 12:52 pm

follow the money hit it right on the head $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 10, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Posted by tom h, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
2 hours ago

follow the money hit it right on the head $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$>>

I agree. The fees the City is requiring will price most people out of building or converting to a second unit. During my discussions, I was told that I would have to have a site survey. I checked and discovered this survey would add another $2500 in costs. A survey seems pointless to me and just another way to discourage these units.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by balance
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 11, 2014 at 11:49 am

Granny units make a lot of sense. There are costs related to approving them, and if people are upset about those costs they should tackle the reasons why. Is the process unnecessarily complex? Are only a few granny projects making all projects more costly?

As these become legal, the city must ensure that they are bot safe for inhabitants and neighbors, and also that they won't adversely affect neighbors. There are setback rules and daylight planes for a reason. Granny units should comply with these rules.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by balance
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 11, 2014 at 11:52 am

The city doesn't control all fees. School impact fees are managed by the district, not the city.

Sure it would be great to reduce fees but if these aren't set to recoup reasonable costs (direct and overhead), then others have to pick up the tab for those who enjoy the reduction. No free lunch folks.


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Posted by follow the money
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 11, 2014 at 12:35 pm

If you listened to or attended last night's PC meeting, you may have noticed that the planning staffer was extremely evasive when asked directly about actual costs, sneering at the notion that the city should "subsidize" these units before finally claiming that they did not know what the costs were.

It's hard to imagine the process per unit taking more than a few hours of staff time plus a couple of inspections. Fees should be under $1000 and the city would still make a profit! The commissioners were stunned by the $$$ that people have been posting here, and the staff's disdain for these projects was evident.


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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 11, 2014 at 1:01 pm

follow the money:

as a builder I can tell you it takes more than a few hours of staff time and a couple of inspections. The inspection process alone requires the following inspections: foundation rebar, underfloor framing, underfloor mechanical, underfloor insulation, shear nailing, rough framing inspection, rough plumbing, rough electrical, rough plumbing, rough mechanical (the roughs can usually be combined into a single inspection, but for a small unit you're still talking an hours time), insulation, sheetrock nail, shower pan, shower lath, final electrical, final plumbing, final mechanical, building final and you can probably throw in three inspections by the fire department if fire sprinklers are required. In addition to those, planning will need to do an inspection to confirm the building complies with the planning granted.

All of these inspections take inspector time and it's not just the time on site it includes travel time. The building department is set up to be cost neutral (at least that's the hope). That means fees have to be charged to cover the cost of those inspectors and staff time. With what our staff are paid and the benefits they receive that cost is not insubstantial.

So, if the city really wants to make granny units viable they are most likely going to need to look at some kind of subsidy to bring some of these fees down. Developers normally simply pass these costs on. Developers aren't going to be building granny units as there's no money in it. Let's see how really serious the city is about encouraging the construction of these units.


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Posted by follow the money
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 11, 2014 at 2:04 pm

I'm not surprised at the opposition, MV, but I don't buy it. I've been involved in a dozen remodels in Menlo Park, some involving complicated projects about the same square footage as a small granny unit. I've never experienced more than two inspections, and the longest the inspector has been on site? About 10 minutes. Maybe in a commercial project your estimates are correct, but not residential.

Note that homeowners will still have to pay for architects and construction, but no need for inflated planning department fees. Unless your objective is to effectively prohibit these units.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 11, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

follow the money:

with all due respect I've been building for 21 years. In and around Menlo Park for at least 16. I have never done commercial work in Menlo Park. All of my work here has been residential. The list of inspections are what is required in this city to get a full sign off and final inspection. I don't know what your projects were, when they were or how you managed to get a final without all of these inspections, but in my experience they are what is necessary. Perhaps you weren't there when your contractor was standing these inspections?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 12, 2014 at 6:16 pm

Posted by follow the money, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 11, 2014 at 2:04 pm
I'm not surprised at the opposition, MV, but I don't buy it. I've been involved in a dozen remodels in Menlo Park, some involving complicated projects about the same square footage as a small granny unit. I've never experienced more than two inspections, and the longest the inspector has been on site? About 10 minutes. Maybe in a commercial project your estimates are correct, but not residential.

Note that homeowners will still have to pay for architects and construction, but no need for inflated planning department fees. Unless your objective is to effectively prohibit these units.>>

I believe that is the objective - to effectively prohibit these units. Planning has never liked them and I think that is true today.

The project I proposed was converting an existing building to a second unit. That building has a foundation, walls, roof. How could it possibly cost $17,000 in fees? Why do I now need an expensive "survey" after the decades this legal building has existed? My concern is that the older folks that may need a second unit for income or a family member will be totally priced out of the process.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 9, 2014 at 9:57 am

PortlWeb Link

Portland, OR has waived their development fees saving residents $7,00-$15,000. ADUs have been a big success there. If Portland can do it, so can we.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 9, 2014 at 12:40 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

The NY Times had an article about these developments, and spoke VERY highly of the attitude taken by Portland.

Roy Thiele-Sardina

Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Homeless Person
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 9, 2014 at 3:21 pm

I am renting out Roy's garage for $50/month. Roy is quite a guy!


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