Berkeley City Council takes step to loosen rules on building secondary units

Related Posts

In an effort to supply the city with more housing options, Berkeley City Council took a step toward encouraging the creation of more accessory dwelling units at its Tuesday night meeting.

In an 8-0 vote — with Councilmember Max Anderson marked as absent — the council voted to move forward with developing a policy to allow accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, to be built “by right,” meaning they could be constructed without an administrative use permit so long as they conform to certain parameters. ADUs are secondary units built alongside existing housing.

The council also decided on guidelines that loosen restrictions on the size of these units. The proposal, passed Tuesday, says the size of an ADU cannot be more than 750 square feet or 75 percent of the main residence with which it shares a lot — whichever is lower.

In contrast, current rules stipulate that the units cannot be larger than 640 square feet or 25 percent of the main residence’s floor area. The new guidelines would also allow ADUs to be built on lots smaller than 4,500 feet, which is currently not allowed unless the unit is built within an existing building.

Mayor Tom Bates, who put forward the proposal, called the policy “groundbreaking.” Several at the meeting noted ADUs’ potential to increase housing options, particularly for older and younger residents.

“You have seniors who want to get out of their larger homes and perhaps move into an accessory dwelling unit — and you have, of course, this ongoing housing crunch where there’s very little housing available,” said Councilmember Lori Droste. “I think this is just the perfect opportunity to be able to provide more housing for a wide variety of people.”

Tuesday’s discussion also saw debate on which parking requirements ought to go along with the construction of accessory units. According to the proposal, requirements to provide for parking space would be automatically waived for ADUs in certain zones so long as the zones are within a quarter mile of a BART station. Tandem parking, in which vehicles line up to share a driveway, would also be allowed “by right.”

Droste pushed for looser criteria for qualifying parking waivers, citing evidence that increasing parking supply will increase traffic congestion. Councilmember Kriss Worthington also wanted fewer parking waiver requirements and criticized the proposal’s maximum height requirement of 14 feet, which he hoped to make more flexible.

Additionally, Berkeley residents Edward Moore and Jacquelyn McCormick, who spoke on behalf of the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association, took issue with the policy’s allowance of ADUs being built “by right.” Neighbors, they said, should have input on the construction of such units.

But according to Karen Chapple, a campus professor of city and regional planning, a too-involved ADU-approval process – including public hearings – has the potential to cause strife.

“A lot of people that would consider building them are not because they don’t want to go through this process,” she said.

The proposal passed by the council will now be written into an ordinance by the city manager and staff. The council will then have to pass the ordinance for the new rules to go into effect.

Staff writer Graph Massara contributed to this report.

Melissa Wen is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.