Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Affordable housing suggestions

As both an architect and general contractor who has been designing projects and obtaining building permits for clients in this county for more than 20 years now in every jurisdiction except the city of Grover Beach (because all of the clients I have had there drop their projects over feasibility issues) I have a couple of more specific suggestions for Phyllis A. Molnar (Viewpoint, Dec. 1) if she and the city of Grover Beach are truly interested in supporting affordable housing:

1. Find a better, more creative way to fund public frontage improvements like curbs, gutters and sidewalks. When potential clients find out they will have to fund these improvements as part of even the smallest of improvement projects, they simply drop their projects. Citizens feel that property taxes ought to pay for these, that they should have been installed by the original lot developers in the first place, and that, especially on corner lots where these improvements take up two adjacent sides of their lot, are far too large a percentage of the costs of their proposed projects to warrant proceeding.

2. Get rid of the $20,000 required water connection fee for secondary dwelling projects, which to my knowledge, no other jurisdiction requires. Additional permit fees bring the total to $25,000 to $30,000. As the size of secondary dwellings is limited on a typical city lot to 400 to 500 square feet, these fees figure in at about 25 percent of the total construction costs.

The intent section of Assembly Bill 1866, the law passed in 2003 allowing secondary dwellings in single-family zones, reads as follows:

“It is the intent of the Legislature that any second-unit ordinances adopted by local agencies have the effect of providing for the creation of second units and that provisions in these ordinances relating to matters including unit size, parking, fees and other requirements, are not so arbitrary, excessive, or burdensome so as to unreasonably restrict the ability of homeowners to create second units in zones in which they are authorized by local ordinance.”

If 25 percent of the cost of an improvement project isn’t “excessive, or burdensome,” then I don’t know what is. When I brought this to the attention of a Grover Beach planner (as part of another dropped project) last year, the response was, “Yup, I know.”

It is hard for most citizens to understand how a secondary dwelling (one kitchen, one bath) provides more “impact” on water services than, say, adding two or three bathrooms, which one can do without this required connection fee.

Such excessive and nonsensical fees and policies provide for a situation where only deep pockets, and not typical homeowners, can afford improvements to their properties.

Bryce Engstrom graduated from the Cal Poly architecture program in 1989. He ran a small construction firm for 15 years and has been a full-time architect since 2004. He lives in Arroyo Grande.