Feb 16 2020

Proposed ADU Design Rules Will Impact Every Piedmont Property

Former City Council Members and Planning Commissioners Attempted Changes to Proposed Design Guidelines for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) – “Second Units.”

Few Piedmonters have been engaged in the proposed ADU rules despite the impact on all Piedmont properties.

The following are safety matters the Planning Commission and the City Council have not considered.

“The designation of areas may be based on the adequacy of water and sewer services and the impact of accessory dwelling units on traffic flow and public safety.”  65852.2  (A) State law.

“Off­street parking shall be permitted in setback areas in locations determined by the local agency or through tandem parking, unless specific findings are made that parking in setback areas or tandem parking is not feasible based upon specific site or regional topographical or fire and life safety conditions.”65852.2 (II) State law.

During the Piedmont school winter break, on Tuesday, February 18, 2020 at 7:30 pm in City Hall, the Piedmont City Council will consider approval, disapproval or changes to the Design Guidelines recommended for approval the prior week by a majority of the Piedmont Planning Commission with Chair Jonathan Levine voting no.  See link to the staff report at the end of this article. 

Thus Far No Checklist is Available to Clarify Process & Requirements

The Planning Department attempted to provide Design Guidelines to protect existing neighborhood standards and concern for adjoining properties. Consideration of applications for new ADUs is required to be “objective” without subjective opinions from staff or neighbors.  Although requested at the Planning Commission meeting, no checklist has been produced to let applicants and others view a complete list of what is required for approval. Processes were also not specifically provided.

Planning Commission Chair and former Piedmont City Council Member Jonathan Levine has repeatedly expressed concern for neighborhood impacts, notification, clear processes and guidelines reviewed prior to approval. 

Unappealable  Staff Decisions

Staff alone will make unappealable decisions on permitting ADUs.  Typography, street safety, parking issues, fire safety, emergency access, etc., are yet to be resolved. The Piedmont Fire Marshall is given the all important, yet “subjective” task of determining whether an  application for an ADU will be “safe.”  

Inoperable windows, parking, notice, story poles, fences, privacy, neighbors involvement, public notice, curb cuts, light and air were matters brought up at the Piedmont Planning Commission meeting on Feb. 10, 2020. 

During consideration of recommendations, some current Planning Commissioners displayed little knowledge of the new State laws and the difference between the previously approved ordinance and the Design Guidelines they were acting upon. The fact that ADU approval could not be discretionary, appealed, or subjective came as a surprise to some. 

Planning Director Kevin Jackson explained that there could be no notice to neighbors or appeal of the staff decisions.  He stated that the design issues such as required 6′ fences and non-operable translucent windows had been  recommended by staff to protect neighborly privacy in an objective manner. Both measures were changed by the Commission. Jackson argued for prompt adoption of the guidelines with future amendments as identified.

Comments & Suggestions by Former Officials

Former City Council member Garrett Keating suggested requiring story poles be installed prior to staff approval to allow the staff to definitively know where the ADU would be built. 

Former Planning Commissioner Melanie Robertson argued for a number of improvements, including allowing curb cuts to facilitate parking on site. 

Former Planning Commissioner and Planner Michael Henn presented a number of language conflicts within the guidelines. Henn wanted the Commission to wait until the California Department of Housing and Community Development booklet outlining compliance requirements had been provided.  Henn further advocated greater community engagement in determining the requirements to allow increased consideration by Piedmonters.

Piedmont City Council ADU Design Guidelines staff report for 2/18/2020 Council meeting:



Piedmont City Council ADU ordinance previously enacted :


Click to make comments to the City Council, > citycouncil@piedmont.ca.gov

3 Responses to “Proposed ADU Design Rules Will Impact Every Piedmont Property”

  1. impact on schools, renters wanting their children in our schools. Overcrowding.

  2. My recommendation for story poles was somewhat facetious but given that the city won’t alert neighbors with a simple 3 x 5 postcard, what’s a neighborhood to do?

    This requirement to not notify neighbors of ADU applications comes from City Attorney Kenyon and not planning staff. Kenyon said there is no legal prohibition to notify neighbors but in her opinion it would be “Draconian” to do so. Instead she implied the community would be better served through direct neighbor to neighbor communication. That position is logically flawed – such dialogue is best established through notification and without that requirement many of these neighbor to neighbor exchanges won’t happen and if they do it will be after the fact.

    More likely her position is self-serving – City Hall doesn’t want to take the phone calls from neighbors about these projects. Recall Mawwellton. No doubt it will be frustrating to have to deal with irate neighbors who aren’t aware of the ministerial ADU process but that comes with the job. City Hall prides itself on customer service but maybe it should think more about public service when it comes to ADUs.

    Thanks to Councilwoman Cavenaugh and Planning Commissioner Levine for pushing for public notice.

  3. A thanks to both Councilmember Jen Cavanaugh and Planning Commission Chair Jonathan Levine for their efforts to bring a wider community involvement to this important issue and resident notification.

    My takeaway is based on the comment by City Attorney Kenyon near the end of the ADU Council discussion last night when Jen’s request for minimal resident notification was shot down. City Attorney Kenyon replied that the City is now in compliance. Is Piedmont the last out of compliance City? Highly doubtful. The State ADU Housing Guidelines, assuming the recently passed series of ADU legislations, is only a month away. (City Planner Mike Henn presented this information to Council last night.) Being out of compliance might bring a State letter, but Piedmont is far away from being sued by the State and would have everything in place to immediately pass ordinances to be in compliance once the compliance criteria are known.

    I would like to have more resident notification and involvement with a Town Hall type meeting for the new ADU ordinances and guidelines. Council indicated they will treat the new Chapter 17 modifications and ADU Design Guidelines as living documents that can be amended as needed. Hopefully this will be done with the same swiftness as the very recent ADU implementations have been.

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