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Accessory Dwelling Units: What You Need to Know

by C&H team member Kelly Mahan Herrick

Since January 1, 2017, the planning departments at both the City and County have been hard at work incorporating new state laws into local ordinance language regarding Accessory Dwelling Units (formerly known as secondary residential units). Assembly Bill 2299 and Senate Bill 1069 reduce barriers, streamline the approval process, and expand the capacity to accommodate the development of these “granny units” in order to provide additional rental housing in residential areas throughout California. The laws supersede local zoning ordinances, and in the coming weeks, we are going to see new versions of local laws that take into account the state mandates.

This means that much of the red tape that has prevented homeowners from adding a habitable, rentable space on their property is significantly diminished. Historically, detached secondary residential units (with kitchens) in residential zones in the County were only permissible on properties of at least five acres; an attached unit (think cordoning off a master bedroom and bath, and adding a kitchenette and exterior entrance) was permissible on a lot of at least 7,000 sq. ft. Now, a secondary unit (aka ADU) is permissible regardless of the lot size, according to the county staff report, which was released mid-March.

Here is a summary of the major changes to the development standards that the Montecito Planning Commission, County Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors will review; the City is also conducting a similar process. They are as follows:

Lot area requirements: As mentioned, the existing development standards require an attached ADU may only be located on a lot of 7,000 sq. ft. or more; detached ADU requires a minimum of five acres. The proposed ordinance amendments delete these requirements, as the state legislation does not include minimum lot area requirements for areas not in the Coastal Zone, with the potential exception of vacant lots.

Floor area limits: The existing ordinance restricts the size of an ADU based on the property’s lot size: detached ADUs on properties over five acres may only be 1,000 sq. ft. The proposed amendments delete the existing maximum floor area restrictions and require that an attached ADU may not exceed 50 percent of the existing legal living area of the principal dwelling, with a maximum of 1,200 sq. ft. A detached ADU may not exceed 1,200 sq. ft.

Parking: The existing ordinance requires that one additional parking space be provided for each sleeping room in the ADU, and that the parking space may be located in the side and rear setbacks of the property if setback requirements cannot be met. The proposed amendments allow local jurisdictions to require the additional parking space for each sleeping room, but there are exemptions: additional parking would not be required if the ADU is developed within an existing one-family dwelling or accessory structure that is already built, if the ADU is located within a half mile from a bus stop or public transit center, or if the ADU is located in an architecturally and historically significant district. There are a few other parking exemptions listed in the staff report.

As the staff report reads, this means that additional parking is only required if the ADU is built on a property that does not currently have an accessory structure in which to develop it. The state legislation allows the parking requirement to be fulfilled via tandem parking, and parking in the side and rear setback if necessary and deemed safe. And, parking requirements for the principal dwelling are as follows: “When a garage, carport, or covered parking structure is converted or demolished in conjunction with the construction of an ADU, any replacement parking spaces required to satisfy the parking requirement for the principal dwelling may be provided in as covered spaces, uncovered spaces, or tandem spaces, or by the use of mechanical automobile parking lifts,” the staff report reads.

Other structures: The existing ordinance states that an ADU may not be built on a lot in addition to a guesthouse or similar structure. The proposed amendments keep this point: if an ADU has been approved on a lot, a guesthouse or similar structure shall not subsequently be approved unless the ADU is removed or converted to an allowed accessory structure.

Design review: This is a major change to how ADUs are currently processed by the County. The existing ordinance requires that all new or altered structures located within the Montecito Community Plan area are subject to review and approval by MBAR, giving neighbors the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the project, and vent any concerns or comments. The proposed amendments to the ordinance language propose that all ADUs be reviewed by the project planner, and that the proposed structure reflect the exterior appearance and architectural style of the existing residence on the property.

The state is mandating that all ADU applications are considered ministerial, without discretionary review. If the ADU is proposed to be built in an existing structure or as part of the existing residence, only zoning clearance is required, not a Land Use or Coastal Development Permit. A building permit is only required if the ADU requires new construction to be developed.

Length of rental & property ownership: The proposed ordinance amendments would require that if the ADU is rented out, it must be rented out for a minimum of 31 days. The County is also looking into requiring that the property owner must reside on the property, either in the principal residence or the ADU.

So what are the pros and cons of this new legislation? On one hand the new laws have the potential to add more rental housing stock, which would allow some renters who work in Santa Barbara to live here, rather than commute from outside of town. It also has the potential to decrease the cost to rent, which many find prohibitive. It would also potentially allow aging parents, grown children, and caretakers to live on familial properties. Many people who commute daily on Highway 101 may no longer need to. Potential issues include aesthetic compatibility, increased density without requiring a zoning change, more pressure on utilities and resources, and increased traffic on local streets.

There are a multitude of local resources to help you navigate ADUs. California Department of Housing and Community Development Memorandum:

http://hcd.ca.gov/policy-research/docs/2016-12-12-ADU-TA-Memo.docx.pdf

Staff Report from Montecito Planning Commission hearing of March 22,2017:

http://www.sbcountyplanning.org/PDF/boards/mpc/03-22-2017/16ORD-00000-00015/StaffReport.pdf

Please feel free to reach out to us if you have questions on this new legislation. We’ve been following the local zoning ordinance amendments, and we’ll be able to point you in the right direction. Calcagno & Hamilton: 805-565-4000.