ADU News Round Up

posted by: admin | Nov 05, 2019 | Plans & Permits Nov 2019


While California joins Oregon, and specifically Portland, in leading the nation as ground-zero for the ADU explosion, especially as highlighted by an innovative non-profit approach to ADU ownership in San Francisco covered below, other states including New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Massachusetts are actively addressing the issues and adding ADU permitting and construction to their local housing strategies.


Financing and navigating the complex government approval process that are impeding the building of ADUs in San Francisco have lead to the establishment of Roots & Returns, an innovative local non-profit organization, to develop scattered-side housing of granny flat co-op units that it designs, builds, and owns. The co-op pays a lease fee to the homeowner, finances and builds the ADU with a goal of rent for a 2-bedroom in-law unit below $2,000 a month, which may sound costly until one learns of the fact that that the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $3,700.



A start-up company on the Peninsula is offering homeowners a chance to place an “Accessory Dwelling Unit” or ADU in their backyard without having to deal with the bureaucracy of city hall. When the legislature voted in 2017 to encourage granny units on existing home sites, there was a lot of interest from the public but that cooled off once homeowners discovered the difficulty of the permitting process. “Really what we’ve done is we’ve boiled down the process in a homeowner’s backyard to a simple two-week install process,” said John Geary, co-founder of a new company called Abodu.



Oxnard’s fees are slightly above the state average, according to Berkeley-based author Deirre Pfeiffer, who researched how local policies encourage or discourage additional dwelling unit (ADU) production, and found the average fee for an ADU in California is $9,250.  “It is concerning to see communities that have high need for multigenerational housing and face economic challenges like high rent, and these places seem to be most resistant to formalizing ADUs,” Pfeiffer said.



The Ukiah City Council Wednesday will holding a hearing to update implementation of the city’s Housing Strategy, which planning staff report has already facilitated the construction of 75 housing units in Ukiah including ADUs. According to the agenda for the Council’s Sept. 18 meeting, when the last report on the strategy was given in August of 2018, Community Development staff reported that “objectives set for the affordable housing component of the Housing Strategy had been achieved, but objectives set for the middle income component of the strategy needed to be more of a priority in the year ahead.”



The City of Chula Vista was prepared to take action at Tuesday’s special meeting, making granny flats more affordable and accessible to the public, but decided to put those plans on hold due to a bill making its way to the governor’s desk. Chula Vista residents spoke out at the meeting, making it clear that they’d like to see some changes in the process and cost to build an accessory dwelling unit, also known as a granny flat. “I will have to say that the cost of the impact fees along with just fees and themselves are very, very high,” one resident said.



For the past few months, Bakersfield City Council members have been engaged in debate about the details of a proposed city ordinance regarding what are officially called “accessory dwelling units,” or ADUs. Many argue they are a way to address California’s housing shortage. I agree with supporters that a city ordinance further promoting local ADUs would serve as a modern update to our zoning ordinances and be in line with state laws that encourage them. However, a vocal group of opponents see ADUs as a threat to the character and livability of their single-family neighborhoods.



Until recently plans for ADUs were hindered by a county zoning restriction known as a “Z District,” which prohibits the construction of granny units in certain agricultural zones. The restriction was aimed at preserving the county’s agricultural resources and preventing nonfarming residences from encroaching into agricultural lands. This month, the county eliminated zoning rules that prohibit the construction of granny units on some agriculture properties, attempting to expand the supply of affordable housing at a time when the county is in dire need of more homes.



the San Diego County Board of Supervisors has introduced an innovative, pre-approved floor plan program that incentivizes homeowners in unincorporated areas to build an accessory dwelling unit on their property Currently, no-cost, permit-ready plans for one 600-square-foot and one 1,200-square-foot ADU are posted online. Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who spearheaded the effort, believes that these pre-approved plans can save property owners as much as $15,000 in design costs. She says this amount is doubled by the County’s ADU fee waiver program which also can save as much as $15,000, for a total potential savings of $30,000 per unit.



On the heels of the state of California’s affordable housing legislation, including new laws that went into effect in January 2019 streamlining approval of accessory dwelling units, the city of Carpinteria faces a familiar challenge: how to follow statewide requirements without giving up local character. City Council took a cautious first step at Monday’s meeting, Sept. 23, voting unanimously to “harmonize” development fees and regulations with state law, while reserving their intention to prioritize Coastal Commission guidelines and “our own standards.”  Residents spoke in support of streamlining city codes in concert with state laws and a motion to direct staff to revise local permit regulations for ADUs to be consistent with state law.  The city must take action to comply with state law, but it can prioritize Coastal Commission guidelines and take variation from what the state is requiring.



This year’s ADU legislation is truly revolutionary and may make 2020 the best year ever to build the perfect accessory dwelling or two on your property. For example, this year’s bills eliminate the owner-occupancy requirement that currently exists in most jurisdictions. That means owners and builders can choose to live on the property or to live elsewhere. And that’s not the only way the legislation benefits owners.



Assembly Bill No. 881, an act to amend, repeal, and add Section 65852.2 of the Government Code, relating to housing regarding Accessory Dwelling Units has been approved by Governor Newsom on October 9. The Planning and Zoning Law had provided for the creation of accessory dwelling units by local ordinance, or, if a local agency has not adopted an ordinance, by ministerial approval, in accordance with specified standards and conditions. Existing law required the ordinance to designate areas where accessory dwelling units may be permitted and authorizes the designated areas to be based on criteria that include but was not limited to, the adequacy of water and sewer services and the impact of accessory dwelling units on traffic flow and public safety.

This bill instead requires the local agency to designate these areas based on the adequacy of water and sewer services and the impact of accessory dwelling units on traffic flow and public safety. The bill also prohibits a local agency from issuing a certificate of occupancy for an accessory dwelling unit before issuing a certificate of occupancy for the primary residence.


In New York, the progressive state Legislature pursues punitive rent regulations and public subsidies to solve the Big Apple’s housing problems, misguided policies that will only increase shortages. Local control of land use policy remains sacrosanct, no matter how dysfunctional the outcome. Communities’ right to exclude all but the most affluent residents remains unchallenged. By contrast, California has conducted a robust debate and taken some sensible steps. California legislators have also vigorously advocated accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, additional units within existing homes and in backyards built on lots exclusively zoned for single-family detached properties…such laws have had a positive impact on cities’ housing supply.



The Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development is exploring options for pre-approved accessory dwelling unit (ADU) plans, hoping to make them easier to build. In July, the Seattle City Council passed long-awaited reforms to laws governing ADUs, which include backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments. The legislation allows more and bigger ADUs to be built, and loosens some code requirements—for example, it axed a requirement for onsite parking, which was a difficult and sometimes-expensive requirement to comply with.



In an effort to solve some of the housing issues in Port Angeles, the Planning Commission is looking at ways to allow increased density in some neighborhoods. They are looking at creating code amendments that would allow the construction of more duplexes and accessory dwelling units or ADUs, as in mother-in-law apartments and tiny houses.



The Mashpee Planning Board unanimously recommended approval of amendments to the zoning bylaw that will allow accessory dwelling units. Most residents who spoke during the public hearing portion of Wednesday’s planning board meeting were in favor of the changes as well. “As someone who is born and raised and wanted to remain on Cape Cod, housing is an issue that is very personal to me,” said Elana Doyle of Sunset Strip during the public hearing portion of the meeting.



After careful and thorough consideration, a vote to approve accessory dwelling units in Nags Head failed. The proposed ordinance presented and discussed during two hours of the Wednesday, September 4 Nags Head Board of Commissioners meeting, was seen as a step toward expanding housing opportunities while limiting negative impacts to established single-family neighborhoods, would have allowed ADUs as a by-right or with a conditional use permit subject to certain standards depending on the zoning district. Currently Dare County, Duck, Kitty Hawk and Manteo have established guidelines for them.



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