Redwood City reconsidering 'in-law units' 

Although residents often dread the addition of second units to a neighborhood and the traffic and parking woes they fear will come with them, Mayor Barbara Pierce thinks it’s time to talk about them. Again.

Pierce and City Councilman Jim Hartnett were part of a city group formed in the late 1990s to look at ways to encourage the construction of second units, often called granny or in-law units. However, those discussions were abandoned when officials and community stakeholders couldn’t reach consensus, particularly regarding parking rules, according to Pierce.

"We didn’t come up with any solutions — or unanimity," Pierce said. Now, as officials begin to re-examine Redwood City’s need for new housing, particularly affordable housing, Pierce would like to give the concept another try.

Second units often meet with resistance from neighbors, and many cities have tried to ban or restrict them, but the rules have changed since the 1990s. In 2002, the Legislature passed a law making it easier to build second units, requiring cities to approve them at the administrative level without a planning commission hearing or vote.

Despite these changes, only 16 or 17 second units are built each year in Redwood City, where city planners estimate more than 1,800 properties could add them.

Adopting a "park once" philosophy aimed at getting locals to use their cars less and shop or visit on foot might resolve lingering fears about the additional cars second units and their tenants bring, Pierce said. The policy is expected to apply to new residences downtown, and could be expanded to other neighborhoods.

Some residents aren’t convinced it’s a good idea to reopen this particular can of worms.

"The City Council has to be careful about being perceived as cramming too many people into neighborhoods," said Judy Buchan, president of the Centennial Neighborhood Association. "People might be more amenable if there’s some oversight."

The second-unit discussion was tabled in the 1990s in part because few neighborhoods and parcels could support their construction. "We didn’t look at it as an answer to the housing dilemma we faced," Hartnett said.

In the Centennial neighborhood, lot sizes are so small that most couldn’t accommodate an additional cottage. But in the Farm Hill neighborhood, there’s room to grow, neighborhood association President René White said.

"I’d love to see it happen," White said. "There is huge need for living spaces ... and there are some large enough properties that could support them."

E-mail Beth Winegarner at bwinegarner@examiner.com.

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