Berkeley City Council allows larger home additions, garage conversions

photo of City Hall
Sunny Shen/Senior Staff
Berkeley City Council met Tuesday to approve an ordinance to increase dimensions of additional dwelling units, or ADUs, across the city with exception of districts with high fire risk.

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Berkeley City Council adopted an ordinance to include garage conversions under the definition of accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, and increased the allowable ADU maximum height to 20 feet in all districts excluding areas at high fire risk at its regular meeting Tuesday.

ADUs are additions to existing residential lots. In Berkeley, they are often known as secondary units or cottages. The council passed the ADU ordinance unanimously and increased the maximum allowed ADU height from 16 to 20 feet. It also sets size maximums. One bedroom ADUs may be no more than 850 square feet, while two bedrooms can be no more than 1,000 square feet, according to the ordinance.

City Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani sponsored the motion to adopt the ordinance and included a caveat that city staff will draft additional ADU regulations specific to areas in Berkeley at particularly high wildfire risk. City staff said they could draft regulations for the “very high fire hazard severity zone” within the next month.

“We don’t want to hold up the other regulations because they’re good regulations,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín during the meeting. “But (District 6) does warrant special consideration.”

The council considered four main amendment proposals before they voted to adopt the ordinance. City staff suggested a three feet separation requirement between the main residence and the ADU. Council members dropped this recommendation in order to classify garage expansions, in addition to detached units, as ADUs. The council put two motions to a vote.

City Councilmember Sophie Hahn proposed a motion to adopt an ADU ordinance with the same language in Kesarwani’s proposal, but that also restricted architectural elements, like bay windows, from protruding close to a lot’s edge. Despite “yes” votes from City Councilmembers Hahn, Kate Harrison, Susan Wengraf and mayor Arreguín, this motion failed.

Kesarwani’s motion that passed without these architectural restrictions also contains a recommendation from councilmember Rigel Robinson. Robinson suggested ADU applicants must submit proof that they notified tenants on the lot where construction is taking place of their intentions with their application to the city.

Berkeley Department of Planning and Development Director Jordan Klein said during the meeting that he will research whether or not the city can legally require proof of notification. Klein added, however, that even if it can’t, city staff could likely inform residents themselves.

Council members also approved an amendment to the fire code that will require homeowners who mainly live in the Berkeley Hills, which are most vulnerable to wildfires, to install sprinklers when constructing renovations or additions that cost more than $100,000.

Some residents spoke against these changes in public comment. Berkeley architect Todd Jersey grew up in the Berkeley Hills and argued that the indoor sprinkler requirements put an unnecessary financial burden on homeowners doing renovations.

District 5 resident Chris Rauen installed sprinklers in his property’s 450-square-foot ADU last year, and said the project cost $14,520, which was considerably higher than the estimates the council discussed. He added that he paid an additional $13,000 for a larger water meter the sprinkler system required.

The fire code amendment also requires homeowners to install sprinklers inside their main residence, in addition to new ADUs, in an effort to enforce fire safety in the hillside overlay.

“With regard to protecting human life, this is a common-sense approach,” City Councilmember Lori Droste said during the meeting.

Rachel Barber is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.