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April 08, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, April 08, 2005

Making room for granny? Making room for granny? (April 08, 2005)

Owners of companion cottages doubt controversial proposal will have large impact

by Jocelyn Dong and Daniel Grujic

A polarizing, though innocuously named, proposal to increase Palo Alto's housing stock could be decided by the City Council Monday night.

The idea to allow "granny units" on 80 percent of the city's single-family properties is -- depending on whom you ask -- either a timely idea to ease the affordable-housing crisis or the trigger for more traffic, noise and privacy intrusions on Palo Alto neighborhoods.

A recent Palo Alto Online poll showed opinions on the issue split about 50-50. About 135 people took the online survey. In March, nearly 60 people turned out to voice their opinions on the topic to the council.

Despite the controversy, Palo Altans who already own granny units don't see what the big deal is.

Adrianna Aguinsky is in the process of building a $70,000 cottage in the back of her Miller Avenue property. She expects to use it for visiting family and friends.

She has no plans to rent it out, though she wouldn't completely rule out that possibility. If she or her husband were to lose their jobs, the rental income could be handy, she said.

Aguinsky shrugged when asked about the city's granny-unit proposal and threats of more cars traversing the neighborhood.

"I don't care," she said. "There's more traffic in the area anyway. They built the apartment complex here and it isn't noisy."

Likewise, cottage-owner Nancy Yamada doubts that additional living quarters will be a threat to neighborhoods.

The Roosevelt Circle property owner and her husband plan to use their new 900-square-foot cottage for a home office and to house visitors.

"We just wanted the extra space. We have three small children and our current 1950s home was full to capacity," she said.

Yamada isn't sold on the idea that granny units would help with the housing shortage.

"The pretense that it would create more affordable housing seems a bit strange to me because I doubt many people would actually rent them out," she said. "I don't think the fears of cars overwhelming neighborhood streets will materialize."

City staff members estimate that residents would build only eight units a year if the zoning proposal is approved, based on past years' figures. The new units could only be 450-square-feet; the existing ones are as large as 900 square feet.

But some community members disagree. They point out that only larger properties -- presumably owned by wealthier people, who do not need extra income -- are allowed to construct granny units now. Relaxing the rules to include smaller properties would open the door to those owners who really would rent out their cottages, they say.

One Palo Altan who does just that is Ruby Schanzenbacher of Barron Park. According to her, there's always been a demand for the place, which has a kitchen, bathroom and combined living room and bedroom.

"It's big enough for one," she said, although she admitted that two people have lived in it before.

Her renters provide a little income and a bit of company close by, which the older woman enjoys. When Schanzenbacher goes out of town, her tenants can take in the mail for her, and she returns the favor for them.

"It works both ways," she said.

Schanzenbacher understands overcrowding concerns, and said more granny units should be allowed "if there's room for it."

As for the issue of automobiles filling up the streets, she chuckled: None of her renters have owned cars.

But her neighbors' cars, she added, now that's another story.

Senior Staff Writer Jocelyn Dong can be reached at [email protected]

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