Small Lot Subdivisions in San Diego

By Sean Canning

San Diego’s new Small Lot Subdivision ordinance, which went into effect on June 1st, seems to be widely misunderstood. The ordinance has nothing to do w/ allowing the construction of smaller homes or shipping container homes -rather it makes is easier to subdivide a lot w/ multiple freestanding homes on it. This was something that could have been done prior but was almost impossible due to the process required.

The purpose of allowing small lot subdivisions is to create an avenue where architects + developers can profitably build free-standing homes rather than condominiums / apartments. The previous system was slanted for the later. Inherently homes will be small b/c they need to share an existing lot before the subdivision is created but all the California Residential Code’s minimum sizes for rooms still apply.

So why is this beneficial?

Why is a small home better than an apartment or a condo? Here are a few benefits of the change:

This encourages home-ownership rather than renting.

A condo comes w/ an HOA (typically around $300/mo. in San Diego) so that savings can be transferred to a higher mortgage payment.

A separate home, rather than an attached condo/apt., has a connection to the street + the neighborhood which encourages a community.

Bungalows (small homes) are historically characteristic of San Diego + other cities in California.

These units provide housing for an important gap between renters + buyers, condo owners + typical house owners.

The ordinance requires a min. of 200sf of ‘open space’ per unit which is something that you don’t get if you live above the 1st floor in a typical condo / apt.

What about density?

I saw some comments on Facebook complaining about over-population. Guess what? People are moving to San Diego regardless. We need to find ways to provide higher-level housing for them. Also this ordinance is only applicable for multifamily zones so the density will remain as-planned for the most part.

What about parking?

Unless you’re in the Transit Area (down Rt.5 into Barrio Logan) a studio / 1BD unit requires 1.25 parking spaces (you’ve gotta round up too). So we won’t be increasing street parking. I’d actually argue that a studio should only require 1 parking space -but it’s not my call.

Finally, this lowers the entry bar for young developers + entrepreneurial homeowners who can now purchase an existing home in a multifamily zone, add a new unit, subdivide the lot, then sell either.

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