A divided Santa Maria Planning Commission voted Wednesday to reject staff’s recommendation on how to address accessory dwelling units in the city.

In a 3-2 vote, the commission approved a recommendation to the Santa Maria City Council to change municipal codes to permit home owners to build, convert or install additional living units on their property to rent as income spaces.

The city’s Community Development and Public Works Department staff, along with the City Attorney’s Office, had recommended the city allow accessory dwelling spaces only if the property’s owner lived on the property with the new residential space.

Planning Commissioner Kelly White O’Neill made a motion, seconded by Chairman Robert Dickerson to accept city staff’s recommendation and to recommend the City Council adopt the measure as presented on Wednesday night. The two commissioners voted for the motion, but it failed when commissioners Maribel Hernandez, Tom Lopez and Tim Seifert voted “no.”

Then Hernandez made a motion, seconded by Lopez, to recommend the City Council adopt an accessory dwelling unit ordinance without an owner-occupancy requirement, which passed with only Dickerson and White O’Neill voting “no.”

The issue of accessory dwelling units came to city government because of changes to California state law. Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a series of bills into law making it easier for property owners to create accessory dwelling units as a means to address the shortage of affordable housing in the state.

An accessory dwelling unit is a secondary residential space. They are also called in-law apartments or granny flats and are generally created through the conversion of existing living space in a single-family home. Accessory dwelling units can also be created by adding additional square footage to a single family home or by building an entirely different structure on a home’s property.

A “tiny house,” built on a flat-bed trailer that is parked and connected to city services, like sewer and water, is also considered an accessory dwelling unit under the new state law.

“Accessory dwelling units are just one of the tools that address the housing crisis, it doesn’t solve it,” Planning Division Manager Ryan Hostetter said.

The new state laws stripped local municipalities of the ability to restrict accessory dwelling units and any other barriers like excessive parking or infrastructure requirements.

The state laws do give local jurisdictions the means to conform the laws in some ways to local governments’ will.

City staff proposed the owner-occupancy requirement as a way to preserve the character and look of single-family neighborhoods as the new laws effectively change the housing density of residential areas.

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“This is a tool to provide oversight,” Hostetter said.

“There is a huge demand for these,” said Gary Crabtree, an Orcutt-based real estate broker and developer after learning of the changes to state law. He wants to build five new single-family homes complete with accessory dwelling units in the city.

The Santa Maria City Council is expected to take up the issue of accessory dwelling units during a public hearing Dec. 5.

In other Planning Commission news, the group voted to approve a development permit for a new office building to be constructed on a vacant lot on Skyway Drive next to the Santa Maria Times offices.

The applicant, Palacios Architects, wants to build a two-story, 19,861-square-foot building with the second floor serving as the firm’s new offices. The first floor will be available for rent.

“The building is well-designed and will be a positive addition to the offices along Skyway Drive,” Assistant Planner Lauren Marsiglia said Wednesday night.

The building will front Skyway Drive and have parking in the rear. It will also be built with a balcony space on the second floor overlooking the Hagerman Sports Complex to the north of the building’s property.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.

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