‘Lot splits’ now allowed; doubts linger over whether they will help solve housing crisis

Owners of existing single-family home lots in Palm Springs can now subdivide their property under an ordinance adopted last week that helps the city comply with newly-enacted state law.

Owners of existing single-family home lots in Palm Springs can now subdivide their property under an ordinance adopted last week that helps the city comply with newly-enacted state law. Whether the move will help ease the state’s housing issues may not be known for years.

Under the rules approved by the Palm Springs City Council on Jan. 13, “lot splits” of single-family home parcels are now allowed, with certain conditions. Among those conditions:

  • The property must be larger than 2,400 square feet.
  • The new lots must have street access.
  • No lot that contains a historic landmark or is located in a historic district is eligible. 

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The rules apply only to how property lines are drawn. They do not affect homeowners who build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their property, although the same basic design standards for ADUs will apply to any homes built on split lots.

Among other requirements, the state law calling for cities to allow lot splits (SB9) forbids any new dwelling built on a split lot to be used for short-term vacation rentals. The law is specifically designed to encourage the construction of smaller, more affordable housing.

Exactly how small those homes will be in Palm Springs was mentioned as the City Council discussed the ordinance last week. While the state law asks for homes to be a maximum of 800 square feet, Councilmember Geoff Kors proposed Palm Springs allow greater flexibility in hopes additional square footage would enable families to have more space. 

“We want to see housing come out of this,” Kors said. “So we want to do it in a way that gives us flexibility for different sizes.”

For now, the Council voted to set the maximum at 1,000 square feet. And while the rules went immediately into place as an “urgency ordinance,” they should get a full public hearing on Jan. 27 and even more scrutiny by a Planning Commission subcommittee in the spring. City staff could make further revisions to the rules following that subcommittee review.

Lot splits have been subject to heated debate in California. Mayor Lisa Middleton noted that while some have praised the move as a solution to easing the state’s affordable housing crises, “There are those who think single-family housing as we’ve known it for the last 100 years is going to come crashing to an end.”

Middleton said she’s hopeful allowing for lot splits will help. But she remains skeptical. 

“The goal here is to build more housing,” she said during a discussion of the ordinance. “I’m going to put it out on the record right now – I don’t think this bill is going to result, however well-intended it was, in a significant number of new housing being built in the state. I hope I’m wrong. And I hope we get the numbers that prove it.”

Even if the numbers don’t eventually show lot splits helped, Councilmember Christy Holstege said allowing the option is worth trying in the city, where the average-size home is now selling for more than $1 million.

“[That’s] extremely unattainable for young people, working people, families, seniors on fixed incomes – people we want to retain in our city and also recruit,” Holstege said of the $1 million price point. “We want these housing policies to result in new housing, and I think that’s the failure we’re seeing at local government. These policies aren’t always translating into more housing units at the scale that we need to solve this deep housing crisis that we are in.”

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