Piedmont, Walnut Creek set to move on ‘Mother-in-Law Unit’ ordinance; Marin OK’s incentives

Increasing ADUs are one way the city can make progress toward housing goals.

Bay Area cities continue the process of updating their local ordinances governing “accessory dwelling units” to conform to new state laws that give cities less control over what they allow.

City councils in Walnut Creek and Piedmont are set to address the issue at their respective meetings Tuesday night. Changes being considered in these two cities and elsewhere come via several bills signed in October by Gov. Gavin Newsom meant to increase affordable housing stocks statewide. ADUs, sometimes called “mother-in-law” units or “granny flats,” are one part of the state’s ideal formula for providing more such housing.

One new law, AB 68/AB 881, will limit cities’ ability to prevent homeowners from building second and third units less than 16 feet tall provided there is enough space to build them at least four feet from property lines. It also prohibits replacement off-street parking when a “garage, carport or covered parking structure” is demolished or converted into an ADU.

Walnut Creek planners say the new state laws “would have nullified the entirety” of that city’s existing zoning regulations for ADUs, because some of its provisions conflicted with those in the new state law. The City Council on Dec. 17 adopted an urgency ordinance that removed these conflicting provisions, but further action is needed to comply with state law. Between a significant update of Walnut Creek ADU regulations in 2017, and the new state law that “leaves very little else for the city to regulate in regards to ADUs,” the City Council is being urged to make its urgency ordinance permanent over the next several months.

The Piedmont City Council is set to take up the issue at its Tuesday meeting, and is poised to implement the proposed ordinance changes. On Jan. 13, the Piedmont Planning Commission voted to recommend updates to the city’s ordinance regulating ADUs to bring the city’s ordinance in line with the new state laws. Saying they felt their hands, and the city’s hands, are tied by the new state laws, commissioners voted to recommend updates to the city’s ordinance regulating ADUs that give the city less autonomy in regulating these units.

Meanwhile, Marin County is offering new financial breaks for property owners in unincorporated parts of that county to create affordable rental units on their properties. Under this program overseen by the Marin County Community Development Agency, property owners renting ADUs to tenants with household income of less than 80 percent of the local median will have as much as $10,000 in permit fees waived, and smaller breaks as the tenants’ incomes rise. The financial incentives are extended to cover fines or fees for property owners rehabilitating existing units or legalizing un-permitted ones.

The new local rules are retroactive to Jan. 1 and are valid through Dec. 31. The Walnut Creek City Council meeting begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 1666 N. Main St. The Piedmont City Council meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, 120 Vista.

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