December 6, 2012

The changing city: Granny flats and corner stores

Sam Smith -  There's news of proposed physical changes in your editor's colonial homeland of DC (which I left in 2009) that is both good and bad and which suggest some of the trends in urban planning that we'll cover over the coming days. We'll start with the good.

For some thirty years, I argued that accessory apartments - or granny flats - were a valuable addition to a city's housing. In fact, where I lived for some time - Capitol Hill - had such places dating back to the 19th century, often called alley dwellings. While in the past, these were often slums, you can now pay up to $500,000 for one.

A restored alley carriage house

And in Los Angeles, at one point there were an estimated 40,000 illegal accessory units, which supported one of my basic principles of planning: if you want good ideas, look at what ordinarily honest people do illegally. It works for granny flats as well as for marijuana.

Another idea I picked up from Capitol Hill was the wondrous satisfaction of corner stores, typically illegal in residential neighborhoods, but grandfathered in for the Hill with its 19th century roots.

Jimmy T's

I could walk two blocks with my cleaning, two blocks in another direction for groceries, and two more blocks if they didn't have what I was looking for. Then I would walk back two blocks, have a sandwich at Jimmy T's, after which I would cross the street to check out Riverby Books and then amble a few blocks home.

Now Mike DeBonis reports in the Washington Post:
District planning officials are rewriting the city’s zoning rules for the first time in 54 years...

To discourage short car trips, for instance, corner stores would be made legal for the first time in a half-decade in denser, rowhouse-type neighborhoods. (Stores that existed prior to 1958 continue to operate in older neighborhoods, particularly Capitol Hill and Georgetown.)

Homeowners in most neighborhoods would have more freedom to create “accessory” apartments on their properties — for instance, basement apartments or garage dwellings that are not currently allowed or require the approval of a city zoning board.


Daily Mail, UK - A neighborhood of miniaturized homes, that look like what some Americans build in their backyards as dollhouses, is propping up in northeast Washington, D.C.

The 150 to 200 square feet living spaces in a transformed vacant lot behind a line of row houses, sell for between $20,000 to $50,000 a piece and are part of a national backlash to the conspicuous consumption of the McMansion era.

The concept of the tiny residences became popularized by Tumbleweed Tiny House Co., based in Santa Rosa, Calif., that launched in 2000. The plans faced a tepid reception but after the credit crisis of 2008, have exploded in popularity.

Though the inside of the home isn't terribly spacious, with the right decorations it can still suit the needs of its inhabitants.

Sam Smith, DC Gazette, 1984 - We have, from time to time, pointed out the hidden housing potential available in DC by rezoning to permit people to install single flats in their homes. This would not only increase the number of housing units available, it would help reduce the economic stratification of neighborhoods and make it possible for more people to buy housing in the city. The Metropolitan Washington Planning and Housing Association has now put out an excellent and important report on accessory apartments that supports this thesis. Anyone interested in housing in DC should read and digest this report since the accessory apartment issue should be, but unfortunately isn't yet, high on the housing agenda.

Sam Smith's Great American Political Repair Manual, 1997 (WW Norton) - One of the simplest, cheapest and quickest ways is to permit people to add one apartment to their home (called accessory apartments, granny flats or mother-in-law apartments). Many of these apartments already exist illegally. The advantages of such apartments include lowering the effective cost of housing for the homeowner, increasing the supply of housing, providing a social and economic mix within neighborhoods, allowing individual care to replace some social services (e.g. the young apartment dweller helping the aged landlord upstairs), providing neighborhood-based economic opportunity and increasing the number of eyes on the street.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The only real solution is to make shelter a right of citizenship and build high-density luxury apartment buildings, 750sqft for 1-2 adults, 1000 for 3, 1250 for >3.

We must start replacing sprawl and lawns with trees and gardens.

granny flats said...

For almost 50 years granny flats and corner stores would be made legal finally homeowners have freedom to customize and create accessory to their properties