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Santa Fe commission OKs loosening casita, guesthouse rental rules

SANTA FE — In a packed City Council chamber Thursday night, the city’s Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of amendments to a land use ordinance addressing accessory dwelling units — like casitas and guest houses — that would allow property owners to rent out two units on a single-family residential lot and not have to live on the property themselves.

But the motion by Commissioner Pilar Faulkner also recommended to the City Council that a closer look be taken into the parts of the ordinance that address parking and that more consideration be given to how the ordinance will be enforced.

The vote came after nearly 40 people spoke during the public comment period, the first of whom was Jamie Durfee, who lives in a casita on a house lot in the South Capital neighborhood with an absentee property owner, in violation of the current ordinance. Now, she faces eviction by the city.

The proposed changes would allow property owners to rent out both a main home and an accessory dwelling without having to live on the home lot themselves, creating two rental units on property zoned single-family.

Durfee said that Santa Fe is facing a well-documented housing crisis, and the amendments would help alleviate the problem. She was there to advocate for others in need of housing that they can afford, she said.

“Casitas are inherit to Santa Fe’s culture and they present a unique opportunity for young professionals to have a separate accommodation that feels like a home,” said Durfee, whose job as a recruiter for Decartes Labs is to get people to want to come and live in Santa Fe.

But opponents of the proposal said the changes would encourage people living out of state to purchase properties and rent them out as commercial enterprises in residential areas.

“What you’re trying to do is admirable but it creates a lot of unintended consequences,” said John Dimas, who added the way to solve Santa Fe’s housing problem is to do it in bulk with apartment complexes or housing developments.

In an effort to discourage property owners from converting their accessory dwellings into vacation rentals, there is a provision in the proposal that requires that rental agreements be for a minimum of 30 days if two units are leased on the same single-family lot.

Several people said that if the changes were adopted, it would invariably increase traffic and create more need for parking in neighborhoods. One of the modifications to the code allows for on-street parking to count toward off-street parking requirements.

Another change would scale back restrictions on dwelling heights, setbacks and living space, allowing property owners to build second-story additions as accessory units on top of current structures as long as they meet setback requirements.

Several people expressed concern that the already taxed Land Use Department doesn’t have the resources to conduct enforcement.

The proposed amendments are just beginning to go through the committee process. They are scheduled to come before the full City Council for a final decision on May 29. The proposal initially had the support of four of the eight city councilors, but the city land use director announced that Councilor Signe Lindell withdrew her sponsorship.

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