Berkeley City Council adopts ADU housing ordinance

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Eran Kohen Behar/Staff
Berkeley City Council passed an ordinance loosening restrictions such as maximum height on Accessory Dwelling Units in order to increase housing options for city residents.

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Berkeley City Council approved an Accessory Dwelling Unit, or ADU, ordinance to enable homeowners to help combat the current housing crisis “in their own backyards.”

An ADU can be described as a secondary household unit or cottage, and the approved ordinance is the product of a multiyear process to assist new housing developments. Tuesday’s unanimous vote finalized and approved the ordinance to be instituted, according to a press release from the office of the Berkeley City Council. 

The press release states the ordinance features distinct changes that deviate from state law, including allowing Berkeley residents to build ADUs to up to two stories and increasing the maximum height of an ADU to 20 feet rather than the state law’s maximum of 16 feet. Another notable amendment involves revising the application process for developing an ADU.

“Berkeley’s ordinance will mandate that notice of an ADU application shall be mailed to owners and tenants of the subject and neighboring properties within ten working days of submission to the Planning Department,” the press release reads.

A driving motivation for the ADU ordinance is to address the housing crisis and to protect Berkeley tenants and families. Councilmember Terry Taplin explains in the press release that these ADU requirements allow for more diverse and inclusive neighborhoods and adds that this allows many growing families to seek more living opportunities.

However, Mayor Jesse Arreguín expressed in an email the need to balance housing stock and public safety. While implementing more housing options are being sought after, he said public safety must not be compromised.

“There are several proposals for the Council to choose from including: allowing ADUs on streets with a width greater than 26 feet, and only allowing one ADU in the Fire Zones,” Arreguín said in the email. “The purpose of these special regulations is a recognition that adding more people and cars to very narrow streets will make evacuation in the event of a fire or earthquake challenging, threatening the safety of residents.”

Berkeley City Council is expected to take up an ordinance to address public safety in the context of ADU construction soon, according to the press release.

Several other council members expressed positive remarks in the press release regarding the ordinance, agreeing that the move by the council was an “important step.” 

“A few extra feet of height will be barely noticeable from the street, but it will open whole new worlds of possibilities for what these units can be,” Robinson said in the press release. “This change helps us create more affordable housing options for families struggling to stay in the community they love.”

Contact Ashley Tsai at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @ashleyttsai.