In July, the City of Redwood City enacted ordinances imposing height and privacy restrictions on ADUs in response to a spate of objections from local residents who raised concerns about the increase in second-story ADUs in their neighborhoods, which has resulted from changes in local codes encouraging ADUs in that city.
Since 2015, Redwood City has vigorously promoted the construction of ADUs. That year, the City Council completely overhauled its existing accessory dwelling law to encourage the development of ADUs in selected zoning districts in the city. In 2017, the City further amended its ordinance to harmonize it with then-recent state law changes intended to relax California’s regulation of ADUs.
Those changes resulted in a substantial increase in the number of ADUs built in Redwood City. Previously, the City had received about three ADU applications per year. Since 2016, however, it has received 146 ADU applications, and 19 of those were second-story ADUs built above detached garages.
Although many Bay Area cities have prohibited these structures, Redwood City will continue to allow second-story ADUs on top of detached garages, subject to the following new restrictions enacted by the City Council:
- They shall be no taller than 20 feet (but the zoning administrator may allow a taller roof so that its slope is compatible with the main house’s).
- They may not have roof decks, balconies or exterior stairs that face nearby neighbors.
- Second-story ADU windows that face nearby side and rear neighbors must be opaque.
Offsetting these restrictions, the City Council adopted additional measures to make single-story ADUs easier to build, including the following provisions:
- They are now exempt from the 50% coverage limit for rear lots.
- Their rear-yard setback requirement was reduced from 10 feet to 6 feet.
- Their maximum size was raised from 800 square feet to 1000 square feet.
- Detached garages and other structures may now be converted into single-story ADUs up to 14 feet tall.
At the City Council meeting at which these changes were approved, several residents raised objections to the continued authorization of second-story ADUs, contending that they would interfere with residential privacy and the character of their neighborhoods. Other participants at the council meeting, however, spoke out in favor of ADUs and this legislation. “ADUs are actually affordable housing in many cases [so r]estricting ADUs really means restricting affordable units….[L]ook at the big picture…, which is…acting on the needs of the many renters in Redwood City who are housing insecure,” said Matt Larson, who also noted that several ADUs in Redwood City were being offered on Craigslist at below market rates.
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