An above-garage ADU.
(Courtesy Santa Cruz County Planning Office)
Housing

The continuing push to streamline Santa Cruz County’s ADU regulations: Here’s what you need to know

Santa Cruz County is mulling changes to its regulations for accessory dwelling units, sometimes called “granny flats.” Seen by some as a tool to build up the housing stock, the proposed tweaks to the rules aim to further streamline ADU development and align the county with changes in state law.

Confused county residents trying to unravel the ADU equation and use it as a path toward conquering the affordability problem will want to tune into the county planning commission meeting Wednesday.

The commission will discuss recommended tweaks to its accessory dwelling unit regulations in order to reach alignment with changing state laws that have made it easier for homeowners to build. The tweaks will center around ADU aesthetics, the number of ADUs allowed on a single property, coastal parking requirements, owner occupancy and other issues.

The recommendations will then be put to the county’s board of supervisors for sign off. Here’s a guide to some of the most noteworthy proposals and what they mean:

Design standards

Currently, the county code requires ADUs to be “compatible” with the main dwelling. That means they essentially have to be designed in a similar fashion. The proposed ordinance would remove that requirement, making it easier for pre-fabricated ADU units to be used and allowing for greater flexibility.

Number of ADUs allowed

For multi-family properties: Currently, property owners on those parcels (think apartment complex) can build both two detached ADUs on the property and construct a certain number of conversion ADUs out of non-living areas, such as garages or storage areas. (Conversion ADUs are allowed for a quarter of the units on the property, so a 100-unit apartment complex could have up to 25 conversion ADUs.)

But because allowing both options at once can lead to parking issues in the surrounding neighborhood, the proposed rule changes would make a property owner on a multi-family parcel pick between either building two detached ADUs or construct the allowed number of conversion ADUs.

Non-conforming properties: Santa Cruz County has many so-called “non-conforming dwelling groups” — those are multiple single-family homes built on a property a long time ago where the zoning doesn’t allow for that many homes. The proposed ordinance wants to tackle that issue by allowing for property owners to relabel their non-conforming single-family homes as ADUs to comply with the zoning code. That not only allows for the property owner to come into compliance but they can then also maximize the number of ADUs they can build.

Here’s how it would work: For instance, if a parcel has three single-family homes but only allows for two, the property owner could potentially relabel the non-conforming home as an ADU — which in turn now allows the property owner to build additional ADUs for the other two single-family homes, one ADU and one Junior ADU per home.

Parking requirements

The proposed ordinance would reduce parking requirements for ADUs in the coastal zone, except along certain county-maintained beach access streets. The thinking: parking requirements are often a barrier to ADU construction.

Owner occupancy

Currently, the local code requires owner occupancy, meaning for a property owner to build an ADU or Junior ADU they have to live on the site, either in the main building or the ADU. A state law that went into effect last year meant that local governments could not require owner occupancy for new permits for a 5-year period from Jan. 1, 2020, through Jan 1, 2025.

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The proposed changes would do away with the owner-occupancy requirement permanently. The thinking is that the change would allow more investors to come in and look at ways to maximize development on properties. It could also make it easier for ADU owners to sell their property, because the person buying it would not necessarily have to live on the parcel.

Rebuilding after a disaster

As it stands, somebody rebuilding after a disaster, such as the CZU fires, has to construct the main dwelling either before they can rebuild their ADU or simultaneously. The proposed changes would allow a disaster survivor to start with the ADU first, with the aim of getting them back on their feet quicker.

Tune in Wednesday, 9:30 a.m.
  • Event
    How to watch the public hearing on ADU changes
    The planning commission will meet via Zoom at 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, May 26, to discuss proposed changes to the county’s ADU regulations. Here’s how to attend: Link to Zoom Webinar: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83856153839 Phone Number: +1 669 900 6833 Webinar ID: 838 5615 3839
    Wednesday, May 26, 2021 - 9:30 AM