Orange County considers relaxing in-law suite regulations

Orange County may make it easier for residents to build granny flats, in-law suites and garage apartments to bring more affordable housing to the area.

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  • | 9:39 p.m. June 28, 2019
  • Southwest Orange
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Orange County could be seeing more granny flats, in-law suites, garage apartments and carriage houses in the near future — providing additional options for affordable housing to residents.

The Orange County Board of County Commissioners heard about potential Comprehensive Plan and code changes it could make in regard to accessory dwelling units (ADUs) at a work session on Tuesday, June 18.

Planning Division Manager Alberto Vargas spoke to the board about how updating the county’s laws could reduce barriers that prevent ADUs from being built.

“The reason why we’re here is to better understand and open up the details of the tool of accessory dwelling units in order to increase the diversity of the housing product types in Orange County,” Vargas said.

A proposed Comprehensive Plan change would state that “accessory dwelling units shall not be included in density calculations.” Proposed code changes include removing requirements that only family members can live in the ADU for the first three years and that the primary unit or ADU must be owner occupied at all times. Under the proposed changes, minimum living area requirements for ADUs would also be eliminated, while the maximum living area requirement would be increased to 50% of the primary home it sits next to.

An ADU is defined as “a self-contained residential unit that shares the same lot as the primary residential dwelling.” It generally includes a living room, sleeping area, kitchen and bathroom and is subordinate in size, location and appearance to the main home on the property.

Vargas added they can be attached or detached from the main home, and typically would serve grandparents, caregivers, single parents and young professionals. The units go by different names — carriage houses, in-law suites, backyard cottages and next-gen homes — but would all be impacted by the proposed changes.

Accessory dwelling units can provide numerous benefits, Vargas said, including housing for in-laws, grown-up children and retirees; affordability in costly neighborhoods; and a second source of income for homeowners who rent them out.

States such as California have already taken measures to promote affordable housing by changing ADU codes, Vargas said. The state made a law that prohibited a local government from requiring parking for an ADU within a half mile of public transit, in a historic preservation area or where on-street parking is allowed.

Meanwhile, Portland, Oregon, in 2010 waived its permit fees for ADUs — which range from $8,000 to $13,000 — resulting in a 20-fold rise or 1,900 permits issued through 2016.

Orlando changed its own ADU rules last year, removing the requirement of an extra parking space for units that are 500 square feet or less, among other changes.

The presentation on June 18 came as a result of Orange County’s 38-member Housing for All Task Force looking to revise the county codes to create more affordable housing options.

Mayor Jerry Demings launched the task force earlier this year to find short- and long-term solutions to the affordable housing issues the county faces.

The proposed changes to ADUs were well received by county commissioners, but there were some questions. 

“I would certainly be supportive of moving forward on everything that you discussed,” District 2 Commissioner Christine Moore said. “The one concern I would have would be with the ADUs in areas where the lot, the parking and the driveways might be difficult — we’ve already had some discussions and had to bring the firefighters in to do an analysis.” 

“I think it’s a really great initiative, and I think it can have tremendous benefits for our citizens,” Moore said.

District 1 Commissioner Betsy VanderLey was also concerned about reduced parking standards and how it would impact neighborhoods.

“I would say, ‘Where there is on-street parking available,’ because I don’t want to just across-the-board see us reduce parking,” she said. “I have several neighborhoods that, if you park on both sides of the street, a fire truck or a garbage truck can’t get down the road — I wouldn’t call that adequate parking at that point.”

Multiple commissioners also expressed concerns about the ADUs being mostly used for Airbnb — distracting from the county’s goal of creating more affordable, long-term housing.

“One of the things I would like you guys to look at would be the word ‘long-term rental’ … consider some sort of language that would not require years but at least months at a time,” District 3 Commissioner Mayra Uribe said. “Quite frankly, I’ve done the math and you make so much more money on an Airbnb rental than you would renting out to someone who’s going to pay you rent monthly, so I think we have to be cognizant of that being so aggressive and happening a lot in our community.” 

County commissioners came to a consensus to move forward with looking into the code and Comp Plan changes.

The board is tentatively scheduled to have public hearings for the code changes on Sept. 24 and Oct. 22, while Comp Plan public hearings would take place on Aug. 6 (transmittal) and Nov. 12 (adoption).

According to the Orange County government website, the Housing for All Task Force is expected to have a final action plan completed by fall of this year. The task force will continue to pursue changes and incentives to create housing products like mixed-use neighborhoods, mixed-income neighborhoods, transit oriented development and creative housing prototypes, according to the county’s website.


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