An accessory dwelling unit on Santa Cruz's Westside.
(Courtesy Santa Cruz County Planning Department)

ADU changes head to County supervisors after planning commission OKs, with tweaks — what that means for you

With a few suggestions, the five-member planning commission voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend that county supervisors adopt the proposed ordinance on accessory dwelling units, which aims to address issues including the number of ADUs allowed on a single property, coastal parking requirements and owner occupancy.

Proposed changes to Santa Cruz County’s rules on accessory dwelling units are moving ahead after garnering support from the county’s planning commission Wednesday — albeit with a few suggested tweaks to rules outlined by county staff.

The proposed ordinance will go before the county board of supervisors in August after the five-member planning commission voted unanimously to recommend that supervisors adopt the measure, which aims to address issues around the number of ADUs allowed on a single property, coastal parking requirements and owner-occupancy, among other things.

The push for the ordinance update comes as the county looks to align with changes in state law and further streamline development of ADUs — which some see as a tool to provide more homes in an area where affordable housing is hard to come by. The planning board, which makes only nonbinding recommendations to supervisors who ultimately decide on the proposed tweaks, did suggest some changes to the updated ordinance. They include:

Number of ADUs

For multifamily dwellings (think an apartment complex), the board wants to allow two detached ADUs plus conversion ADUs — units constructed out of non-living areas such as garages or storage areas — in up to a quarter of the total units on the property. That would be in keeping with the county’s current rules.

County staff had previously proposed to make the owner of a multifamily parcel pick between building either two detached ADUs or constructing the allowed number of conversion ADUs, citing concerns that allowing both options at once could lead to parking issues in the surrounding neighborhood.

But Planning Commissioner Tim Gordin said Wednesday that allowing owners of multifamily parcels to do both would keep the county’s rules aligned with those in the city of Santa Cruz, making it easier on the public. It would also promote housing and ADUs in general, he said, noting that many residents want more housing.

“Because there’s nowhere to live,” Gordin said. “So limiting such a large opportunity on multifamily housing, in my opinion, does not follow the county and the state’s recommendation to make this process easier and faster.”


Current county rules don’t allow separate driveways for ADUs in the urban area. The proposed ordinance would have extended that prohibition to the rural area, essentially forbidding property owners anywhere in the county to have separate driveways for their ADUs and primary homes.

The reasons, per county staff, included wanting to maintain the character of rural areas and avoiding traffic circulation issues in urban neighborhoods.

But planning commissioners went the opposite way, recommending ADUs anywhere in the county be allowed to have separate driveways from primary dwellings. The thinking: Allow property owners to more easily create required extra parking.

“It kind of doesn’t make sense to say, ‘Hey, you have to create more parking, but we’re not letting you create the driveway,’” Gordin said.


The proposed ordinance would have had reduced parking requirements for ADUs in the coastal zone, except for in certain areas where property owners building ADUs would need to provide parking spots. County staff had suggested that those areas could be along certain county-maintained beach access streets.

But in a move that would apply to a larger area, the commission recommended aligning them with three designated coastal neighborhoods where the county has restrictions on short-term rental permits. Those include designated areas along the coast in Live Oak, Seacliff/Aptos, and Davenport/Swanton.


Planning commissioners recommended adding an 8-foot rear yard setback, called a “stepback” in this case, for ADUs more than 16 feet tall. In most cases that means if a property owner builds an ADU higher than 16 feet, the second story would have to be set 8 feet back from the property line in the rear, while the first floor can be set back 4 feet.

What’s next

Other than the above changes, the proposed ordinance county staff drafted stayed the same. For more on the potentially changing rules, click here.

The proposed ADU ordinance is expected to come before county supervisors on Aug. 10. If supervisors approve the ordinance, which would go through two readings, the California Coastal Commission will have to sign off on it, marking the final step — though it could also suggest changes and send the ordinance back before county supervisors.