New ADU rules for Santa Cruz County going to Coastal Commission

If you are waiting to create an accessory dwelling until Santa Cruz County has adopted new rules to make the process easier and less expensive, you’ll have to be patient a little longer. The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 Tuesday to adopt new rules for ADUs to comply with new state laws, SB 1069 and SB 229, aiming to make ADUs easier and less costly.

An accessory dwelling is a small second dwelling on a piece of property, sometimes inside an existing home, in a garage or built somewhere on the lot. They tend to be smaller, up to 800 square feet, compared to newly built homes, which in 2016 averaged 2,600 square feet in the U.S., and because of the smaller size, are expected to be more affordable.

Because part of the county lies within the coastal zone, the rules must be approved by the California Coastal Commission. The goal is to get the proposed Santa Cruz County ADU rules on the state agency’s agenda for March or April. County planners expect accessory dwellings will comprise 320 of the 1,500 new housing units to be built from 2016 to 2023 — about 20 percent of the total.

County ADU permits lag behind the city of Santa Cruz, which issued 41 in 2017. The county approved 18 ADU permits in 2016 and 28 in 2017, with 25 in the pipeline.
The biggest obstacle for homeowners is the cost of an ADU permit, according to consulting firms Dyett & Bhatia and Vernazza Wolfe, hired by the county to recommend ways to encourage homeowners to go through the permit process. Consultants found county fees alone for 800-square-foot ADU in Soquel totaled $20,000 with the overall expense projected at $379,914.

A 2017 report by UC Berkeley’s Terner Center found “robust growth” of ADUs in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver and survey respondents reporting the average cost as $156,000. The average cost to create affordable housing is $332,000 per unit in California, and $591,000 in San Francisco, the report noted.

Currently Santa Cruz County has two sets of ADU rules, one for outside the coastal zone and the other for inside the coastal zone. If the Coastal Commission approves the new rules, one set of rules will apply countywide.

When the supervisors had the option of choosing 20 or 22 feet as the maximum building height, Supervisor John Leopold embraced 20 feet, as recommended by the Planning Commission. The other four supervisors agreed. Other changes include:

  • Parking: One space per ADU. Any ADUs in a garage or accessory structure are exempt, but homeowners in the Live Oak parking district must provide off-street parking for ADUs.
  • Location: An ADU can be located anywhere on the parcel as long as it is a superior site plan.
  • Coastal zone: A Level 5 public hearing before the zoning administrator is required to protect coastal resources.
  • Vacation homes: Parcels with an ADU cannot get a vacation rental permit.
  • Building height: Measuring by exterior wall height, not by average height.

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