So much for San Diego streamlined granny flats

Stephen Thein: "I was mired in an expensive, time-consuming and ongoing licensing process."

Stephen Thein: “I’m stuck in an expensive, time-consuming and ongoing licensing process.”

San Diego’s plans to promote affordable housing include plenty of grandmothers. For this purpose the city was revision of the rules, recently, dropping all parking requirements for grandmothers and allowing property owners to build additional housing if they are you agree to rent restrictions at least one of them.

Prior to the changes, applicants faced more difficulties and higher permit costs, which did nothing to stimulate the construction of such affordable housing.

But for a Point Loma homeowner, it wasn’t smooth or fast. Six months later, his project is still awaiting review. Stephen Thein just wanted to join two existing legal units to create a larger one. Eventually, he would have a 1,000-square-foot apartment on Qualtrough Street in the La Playa area.

But the end is nowhere to be seen.

“I was mired in an expensive, time-consuming and ongoing licensing process,” says Thein.

Forget the free, pre-approved city grandma flat plans. Thane’s plans were both simpler and more complex.

He didn’t start from scratch, adding bathrooms and bedrooms or relocating utilities. Instead, he paid thousands of dollars in fees and plans, he says, “for simply adding 300 square feet to two existing, permitted structures – to make them one.”

There is nothing about the property to explain the detention, he said. “I have a large batch that is less than 50 percent covered with all the structures, none in the zones of failure or over one story.”

Thein began work in March without permission, “thinking it was so minimal that I could go on.” Side by side is a guest villa built in the 1930s and a small games room with a bed and bathroom that sit behind his house. His filling project will move the kitchen from the guest house into the space between the structures.

As simple as the plan is, the city requires homeowners to obtain a building permit to ensure the new house meets zoning, construction, health and safety codes.

In May, Travis Espinosa, a city code enforcer, made the addition, set its size at 195 square meters, and added several sites to the plan. Thein received a violation for converting the recreation room and guests into a single residential unit without permits and for expanding part of an existing deck.

Although he applied for a building permit and received a project tracking system number, he has not heard anything since then and blames the delays for being “put back”. Along the way, the city building department moved out of new neighborhoods that were found to be contaminated with asbestos, initiated a new online permitting process, and was closed due to Covid infection, he says.

According to the city, there is a case for implementation of the building code without a permit. Thein submitted documents on July 3, which were reviewed on July 13, but then the city requested more documents and they were not received, said Gary Gayler, assistant director of development services.

“An accompanying unit in the coastal zone requires a coastal development permit.”

The fact that a coastal solution must now be sought is Thane’s greatest fear – “a very expensive, long and difficult process”. He does not question the need for a building permit, but says the guest house was built legally many years before the city established a coastal permit process.

In recent days, he has sent photos of the city from the historical archives in Balboa Park, which show that the guest house existed before 1936, and the city is reviewing them. Again.

In 1997, when he renovated the main house, the city refused to give final permission for use unless it removed the kitchen and other residential facilities from the guest house. But Thane was able to find the house on the early fire cards and the appraiser’s notes and cards, and the city declared the guest house, kitchen, bathroom, and everything else for grandchildren.

“Now, it seems, I have to prove again that it has always been here, as a full-fledged, independent second structure.”