Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Reacting to an affordable housing shortage and state law that went into effect this year, Humboldt County is advancing new rules encouraging smaller, lower-cost secondary housing units.
The county’s Planning Commission reviewed an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinance at its May 21 meeting. The ordinance codifies measures in the county’s 2019 Housing Element of the General Plan Update and aligns with new state rules on secondary residential units.
They include allowing ADUs in all zones where single family and multifamily housing is principally permitted and relaxing code standards to allow tiny homes and movable tiny homes as second units.
Reduced ceiling heights, allowing lofts as living spaces and allowing “junior ADUs” of 500 square feet or less are also included.
There was some discussion on the degree to which the county can control ADU construction and enforce neighborhood compatibility standards.
But the state wants more affordable housing and won’t support policies that interfere with it.
“The state is really taking a heavy hand in precluding local jurisdictions from not allowing homes,” said Supervising Planner Michael Richardson. “They want home construction and one of the things that has gotten in the way of that in the past has been these nebulous, vague, nonobjective standards in local ordinances that local governments are able to use to deny permits.”
He added, “The state has had enough of that.”
One way the county can exert oversight is to map out areas where approval of ADUs would be done through publically-noticed special permit processes.
There are some cost-inducing requirements on the state side. This year, state law that mandates solar power installations on new housing units went into effect.
Saying that “there are state requirements that add to the cost of construction, no doubt about it,” Planning Director John Ford said the solar mandate and others will apply to ADUs.
They will need to be approved under special permits if they’re built in fire risk areas. Ford questioned whether that’s “regulatory enough, given the fact that many of those areas require improvements to roads and fire access for an accessory dwelling unit -- and so there is a real tension there.”
Richardson said county planners are aware that some state requirements will boost the cost of ADUs. But he added that the ordinance encourages scaling down construction.
“Our approach here, with the allowance of tiny homes and moveable tiny homes is to reduce the construction costs through reducing the size of the unit,” he said.
The size limit of an ADU is set at 1,200 square feet in the ordinance.
After discussion with commissioners, county planning staff agreed on adding “alternative language” to the ordinance, such as requiring paved driveway access for ADUs that are located off paved roads.