Jan 16 2020

ADU Zoning Changes Without a Piedmont Vote

Piedmont City Council, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, 7:30  p.m., City Hall – viewable on the City website under videos.

At the Piedmont Planning Commission on Jan. 13th, numerous questions arose regarding changing Piedmont’s ordinances for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) to conform to City staff interpretation of newly passed state laws.  Some of the issues raised were parking, notice, public input, number of people living in an ADU, safety, distance from public transit, staff review process, design review considerations, plantings, landscape requirements for privacy, construction plans, necessity to act prior to complete information, etc.

Four of the Planning Commissioners, voted to recommend approval to the City Council, with one opposed (Levine).

An important question has arisen regarding the necessity of moving ahead with a new Piedmont ordinance prior to the California Department of Housing and Community Development issuing a directive on how the new laws are to be implemented.  Piedmont’s Planning Staff acknowledged publicly it had been challenging to meld three new statutes together because of conflicts and lack of clarity.  Some community members have indicated the proposal includes unnecessary items while excluding items as noted above.

Nowhere in the staff documentation is there a direct correlation between the new state laws and the proposed changes to Piedmont’s laws. 

Given that the new state laws may (unless Charter cities are ruled exempt on zoning) preempt any conflicting Piedmont ordinances not complying with the new state laws, it has been stated that a hasty adoption of an incomplete new ordinance is not in Piedmont’s favor and should not be enacted by the Piedmont City Council until issues are resolved.

According to the Piedmont Planning Department, State laws place limits on a local jurisdiction’s ability to regulate ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) and Junior Accessory Dwelling Units (JADUs).  The staff report does not quote the relevant State law language for each inconsistency it cites.

READ the proposed Ordinance  HERE.

Comments can be sent to the Piedmont City Council for their first consideration on Tuesday, Jan. 21 by clicking below. 


To send comments via U.S. Mail, use the following address: Piedmont City Council c/o City Clerk, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611.


The staff recommended revisions to Piedmont’s ADU ordinance to address the identified inconsistencies with state laws are:

a. Once an application for an ADU has been deemed complete, the City has 60 days to take action on it, rather than the currently required 120 days.  What action does state law require and does it require the proposed changes immediately? 

Contrarily, if approved by the legislature and Governor, SB 50 would require beginning after January 1, 2023 creating new inconsistencies:

A local agency must notify a multi-family development proponent if the application does not qualify for ministerial approval within 60 days.  (However, a local agency could exempt a project from streamlined ministerial approval if the project will cause a specific adverse impact to public health and safety.)  To qualify, the project must be constructed on vacant land or convert an existing structure that does not require substantial exterior alteration into a multifamily structure, consisting of up to 4 residential dwelling units and that meets local height, setback, and lot coverage zoning requirements as they existed on July 1, 2019.

b. ADUs must be allowed in every zone in which residential use is allowed. In Piedmont, this is every zone.

c. A requirement for owner occupancy on the property is no longer allowed, at least through 2025.

d. Architectural review of construction related to an ADU is allowed, but it must be done ministerially without public hearing.

e. Any minimum size standard for an ADU must allow 850 square feet for studio or one-bedroom units, and 1,000 square feet for an accessory dwelling unit that provides more than one bedroom. (The current code limit is 800 square feet.)

f. When a garage or carport is demolished or converted for the purpose of creating an ADU, no replacement parking can be required, and existing nonconforming setbacks and coverage can be retained.

g. In addition to a regular ADU, the City must also allow a JADU. Both an ADU and a JADU can be constructed on a single lot.

h. There are four categories of ADUs the City must approve by right:

1. One ADU and one JADU within the existing building envelope of a single family dwelling, with an expansion of up to 150 square feet for ingress and egress.

2. On a lot with a single-family dwelling: A detached ADU that is not more than 800 square feet, that is no more than 16 feet in height and is set back at least 4 feet from side and rear property lines.

3. Within existing multi-family residential buildings: multiple ADUs converted from areas not currently used as living space (at least 1 ADU and not more than 25 percent of existing dwelling units).

4. Not more than two detached ADUs on a lot with an existing multi-family residential building that are no more than 16 feet in height and are set back at least 4 feet from side and rear property lines.

BACKGROUND: Current Regulations

The City adopted the current regulations for accessory dwelling units in May 2017. In brief, the current regulations require an owner of a single-family dwelling to seek an accessory dwelling unit permit to create an ADU as a dwelling unit independent of the primary residence. Except for Exempt ADUs (those created before 1930) either the primary or accessory dwelling unit must be owner occupied. The ADU may be attached or detached, but must have a separate exterior entrance.

As required by state law, an application for an accessory dwelling unit permit must be processed ministerially (without a public hearing) if it meets all the standards required for the ADU permit. New buildings or changes to buildings that are intended to contain the ADU require separate design review and building permits and must meet design review criteria and zoning provisions for buildings, or a variance from those provisions.

Revision of Incentives for Affordable Housing

The current code imposes a limit of 800 square feet on all ADUs and authorizes the Planning Commission to grant an exception to the size limit for units up to 1,000 square feet if the owner agrees to rent the unit to a low income household for a period of 10 years,

Page 2 of 112  – or 1,200 square feet if the owner agrees to rent the unit to a very low income household for a period of 10 years (Sec. 17.38.070.C.1).

Since May 2017, the City has received no applications for an ADU requesting an exception from the unit size requirement and has approved no ADU permits with a rent restriction.

The state law changes the minimum size standards permitted under local regulation, requiring revision of the City’s exception provisions. In accordance with Government Code section 65852.2(a)(3), it is recommended that exceptions to size requirements to provide an incentive to create affordable housing be processed ministerially.

City of Piedmont General Plan Housing Element

The majority of the General Plan Housing Element for 2015-2023 (separately available on the City’s website) is devoted to ADUs (referred to as second units in the Element) because, as a built-out city, ADUs are the main means by which the City is able to provide new housing units, either market rate or affordable.

Housing Element policies and programs that relate to ADUs include the following:

Policy 1.2: Housing Diversity. Continue to maintain planning, zoning and building regulations that accommodate the development of housing for all income levels.

Policy 1.5: Second Units. Continue to allow second units (in-law apartments) “by right” in all residential zones within the City, subject to dimensional and size requirements, parking standards, and an owner occupancy requirement for either the primary or secondary unit. Local standards for second units may address neighborhood compatibility, public safety, and other issues but should not be so onerous as to preclude the development of additional units.

Policy 1.6: Second Units in New or Expanded Homes. Strongly encourage the inclusion of second units when new homes are built and when existing homes are expanded.

Program 1.C: Market Rate Second Units. Maintain zoning regulations that support the development of market rate second units in Piedmont neighborhoods.

Policy 3.1: Rent-Restricted Second Units. Continue incentive-based programs such as reduced parking requirements and more lenient floor area standards to encourage the creation of rent restricted second units for low and very low income households.

Policy 3.2: Occupancy of Registered [Permitted] Units. Encourage property owners with registered [permitted] second units to actively use these units as rental housing rather than leaving them vacant or using them for other purposes. Page 3 of 112

Policy 3.3: Conversion of Unintended Units to Rentals.Encourage property owners with “unintended second units” to apply for City approval to use these units as rental housing. “Unintended” second units include spaces in Piedmont homes (including accessory structures) with second kitchens, bathrooms, and independent entrances that are not currently used as apartments.

Policy 3.4: Legalization of Suspected Units. Work with property owners who may be operating second units without City approval to legalize these units. Where feasible and consistent with the health and safety of occupants, consider planning and building code waivers to legalize such units, on the condition that they are rent and income restricted once they are registered.

Policy 3.5: Second Unit Building Regulations. Maintain building code regulations which ensure the health and safety of second unit occupants and the occupants of the adjacent primary residence.

Policy 4.4: Updating Standards and Codes. Periodically update codes and standards for residential development to reflect changes in state and federal law, new technology, and market trends.

Policy 5.2: Second Units, Shared Housing, and Seniors. Encourage second units and shared housing as strategies to help seniors age in place. Second units and shared housing can provide sources of additional income for senior homeowners and housing resources for seniors seeking to downsize but remain in Piedmont.

CALIFORNIA GOVERNMENT CODE SECTIONS 65852.2 AND 65852.22: In September 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 68, AB 881, and SB 13 into law.  

Read the full Planning Department Report by clicking below



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