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October 23, 2021

County Supervisors approve changes to ADU rules

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday amended the county’s rules governing accessory dwelling units (ADU), which county officials say were created to streamline the process for building them. 

Under the new rules, old ADUs can be demolished and rebuilt as long as the new construction sits on the same footprint as the previous ADU, also known as, among other things, granny flats and in-law units.

In addition, only property owners or their relatives may apply to build ADUs.

The rules also place a series of six objective standards for the appearance of new ADUs that are visible from public roads or public areas, the intent of which is to make the ADUs consistent with the look of the primary structure on the property.

Applicants are required to choose any three of the standards, which include roof pitch, roof material, siding or color, window and door trim, fencing or landscaping and facade items such as porches and bay windows.

“This menu approach allows applicants to address various situations where it may not be appropriate for an ADU to exactly match the design of a primary dwelling,” said Daisy Allen, a planner with the Santa Cruz County Planning Department. 

Allen added that the changes are consistent with state rules and as such will make it more likely the California Coastal Commission will approve them later this month.

The rules also include discretionary approval requirements for ADUs built in parks and recreation districts, and timber production areas.

The changes passed 4-1, with Supervisor Manu Koenig dissenting. 

Koenig, who said he would address housing issues when he was running for the District 1 seat in 2020, called the changes “half-measures” and said that the standards governing the appearance of ADUs will rule out factory-made and “prefab” units, which may look different than the primary dwelling.

He also objected to the requirement that only property owners can build ADUs. 

“We should be allowing everyone to do that, not just owners who live on the site,” Koenig said. “What about people who are currently renting a home?”

Koenig added that allowing investors to build ADUs could be a way to quickly add to the county’s housing stock.

“Just about all housing is made possible by investors, and we should not cut them out of the equation,” he said. 

“We are in a deep, deep hole when it comes to housing, and with these changes, we’re just going to hand our community a teaspoon,” he added. “We need to hand them a shovel to get everyone involved digging ourselves out of the hole we are in and provide more housing for Santa Cruz County.”

Koenig made a motion to eliminate design review for ADUs and eliminate the owner-occupancy requirement, but the motion died for lack of a second.

The changes to the County’s ADU rules came after several public meetings by the Housing Advisory Commission and the Planning Commission.

Supervisor Zach Friend praised the planning department for the new rules and called them “an absolutely essential tool for affordable housing.”

“It seems a very reasonable approach you came up with to ensure that this continues to extend the ability to construct ADUs without also creating additional challenges moving forward,” he said.

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