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Innovative “Junior” accessory dwelling unit Zoning Ordinance Passed in Novato, California

By Ellen Nicosia

In January of 2015, an innovative ADU zoning ordinance will go into effect in Novato, California, along with fee reductions and changes in fire protection requirements. The zoning change creates Junior Accessory Dwelling Units (JADUs), a new class of ADUs with refreshingly reasonable requirements.

The company I work for, Lilypad Homes, and its founder, Rachel Ginis, developed the JADU concept and advocated for its adoption.  Lilypad is a Marin County company that provides ADU education and consulting.  Rachel worked to educate local government agencies and elected representatives about the advantages of implementing simple and inexpensive permitting procedures, to fostering the development of affordable, infill housing in the form of a simpler ADU.

A JADU should be significantly easier to create than a standard ADU in Novato.  The mandate to add a parking space will be eliminated. The parking requirement is a major reason that the number of new ADUs has been so low, so this change is significant. Even if homeowners can add parking, they are often discouraged by the high cost of installing (fire) sprinklers, but as of January, that requirement will also be eliminated. Excessive fees have been another barrier, which Novato will address by eliminating development impact fees and reducing planning permit fees.

Novato planning officials engaged local fire and building officials and together they reached the decision that fire separation, sound attenuation, and fire sprinklers would not be required for a JADU.  That was great news since it will make conversion projects simpler and will keep costs down. There is still work to do on the utility side. If a homeowner adds a wet bar to a bedroom, no fee is charged by the water utility. However, if the bedroom is an accessory unit, one local water district charges a $10,000 connection fee. City officials will be working with utility companies to address this type of disparity and hopefully get such fees reduced significantly or eliminated.

Junior ADUs are created by re-purposing a bedroom and ancillary space within an existing home.

JADUs do not redefine single-family homes, as the door adjoining the Junior Unit to the main living area remains in place. They do not increase density as the living and sleeping capacity of a home does not change (e.g., a four bedroom home converted to a three bedroom home with one JADU still only has four bedrooms). The requirements for water and energy, the need for parking, and the impact on local roads have all been accounted for in the original permit for the home. All that is needed to create a JADU is a bar sink, a standard set of electrical outlets to accommodate small kitchen appliances, access to a bathroom, and an exterior entrance.

Many municipalities in our area have included JADUs in their 2015-2023 Housing Element Drafts and will submit JADU ordinances for approval in 2015. Affordable housing unit targets from the state California are parsed out to towns and cities; these targets are referred to as Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA. Staff members from the State Department of Housing and Community Development have confirmed that JADUs with private bathrooms will count towards RHNA, and that those with shared bathrooms will not.

The specifications for JADUs in Novato were worked out in this city council meeting.  Here is a summary of those specifications, which some of the other Marin municipalities plan to use as a starting point for their own JADU discussions.

Comparison of Current Accessory Dwelling Unit Specifications to New Junior Accessory Unit Specifications – City of Novato

Accessory Dwelling Unit Junior Accessory Unit
Size 150-750 sq. ft.; up to 1,000 sq. ft. on lots over 10,000 sq. ft. 150 -500 sq. ft. – conversion of existing bedroom required, no building expansion.
Kitchen Kitchen components not limited. Wet-bar type kitchen only. Limits on sink and counter sizes; limit on size of drain line; no gas service and limit on electrical service (110v)
Bathroom Required as part of the unit Separate bathroom for unit not required – shared bathroom OK
Access Interior access not required External and internal access required
Parking One additional space required Not required if existing dwelling meets original parking standards when built
Owner Occupancy Owner occupancy required Owner occupancy required
Approval Process Zoning Administrator ministerial approval unless project deviates from standards (e.g., upper story addition, exceeds size limit, etc.); Notification to adjacent property owners. Zoning Administrator ministerial approval unless project deviates from standards; Notification to adjacent property owners.
Deed Restriction Recordation of a deed restriction requiring owner occupancy Recordation of a deed restriction requiring owner occupancy

2 comments on “Innovative “Junior” accessory dwelling unit Zoning Ordinance Passed in Novato, California

  1. Pingback: The many and confusing synonyms for ADUs | Accessory Dwellings

  2. Pingback: Accessory Dwellings

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This entry was posted on December 14, 2014 by in News, Policy & Trends and tagged , , , , , , .
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