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To join the growing trend encouraging construction of accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, Millbrae officials started building a policy regulating the affordable opportunity to expand the city’s housing stock.

The Millbrae Planning Commission initiated a conversation Monday, Aug. 19, attempting to set the foundation of a rule book for developing the structures also known as in-law or granny units or casitas.

Officials eyed areas of concern such as size, height and parking constraints, while recognizing they are a little late to the game in writing local policy for the buildings which have become increasingly popular across the Peninsula, as well as the state.

Acknowledging Millbrae is the only city among its neighboring communities without its own ADU policy, Commissioner Cathy Quigg urged officials to take swift action on approving an ordinance.

“We are the only city that hasn’t come up with anything and that is kind of a little embarrassing,” she said, according to video of the meeting. “So I think it would really behoove use to get on the bandwagon.”

No decision was made in the initial study session, and officials will continue the conversations with the community over the coming weeks with an eye on more formal discussion later this year.

Most local municipalities favor development of the structures defined as smaller units with all the amenities to live independently which are either attached to, or in the backyard of, a property’s main dwelling.

Officials promote construction of the units as a means of expanding the amount of units available in a community at a reasonably affordable rate. The additional living spaces are expected to help the region meet the growing to demand to live on the Peninsula, and hopefully push down the cost of living in the process.

Development regulations for the units have been loosened in recent years by state lawmakers who approved new laws making it easier to build new structures, or keep existing ones.

Since Millbrae does not have its own policy addressing construction, those looking to build the structures must adhere to the state mandate. But with a recent rise in building applications, city officials intended to craft a policy addressing the unique concerns held by residents regarding additional construction.

To that end, Quigg expressed discomfort with the perceived lack of parking required on a property where an ADU may be built. State law requires one additional spot, so long as the property is farther than one-half mile from a public transportation stop.

Noting that the units could accommodate more than one person, Quigg suggested additional cars from extra residents could further congest small streets already featuring limited parking.

Commissioner Maureen Davis downplayed such concerns though, suggesting she favored establishment of additional living opportunities over worries about limited parking.

“I’m more worried about where people are going to sleep than where we are going to park cars,” she said.

Commission Chair Anders Fung agreed.

“The state has a housing crisis, not a parking crisis,” he said.

Officials also attempted to identify the appropriate height and size limits for the structures, with an eye to striking the right balance between allowing a suitable living space without overwhelming a property and invading neighbors’ privacy.

State laws allow for structures which are half the size of the main dwelling, but no larger than 1,200 square feet. Millbrae officials agreed 1,200 square feet is likely too large for most of the city’s lots, and signaled they felt around 800 square feet was more suitable.

Looking ahead, officials also agreed more care should to given identifying the allowable height for the structures, especially since some are attached to the main dwelling, which would result in larger homes.

Furthermore, they suggested those permitting the additional construction should be wary of homeowners looking to build additional square feet onto their home under the guise of constructing an ADU.

These issues, and others associated to the policy, will be addressed during the upcoming community discussion held Tuesday, Aug. 27, in the Chetcuti Room in City Hall. Another round of conversations are scheduled next month.

Despite hoping the process advances quickly, Quigg expressed her appreciation for getting the issue off the ground.

“I’m glad we are started and I hope we get it done quickly,” she said.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105

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