The Piedmont Planning Department is in the final stages of developing the city’s Housing Element, the city’s 8-year plan for accommodating new housing in Piedmont. The City is required to add 587 units by 2031 under regional authority. The draft plan proposes two mechanisms for achieving that goal — changes to rules that regulate the development of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and changes to city zoning and zones to permit the development of multi-family housing on public property. [The draft Housing Element is available HERE.]
Most Piedmont residents live in Zone A — single family residential, the intent of which is to:
- Protect residents from the harmful effects of excessive noise, light deprivation, intrusions on privacy, overcrowding, excessive traffic, insufficient parking, blockage of significant views, and other adverse environmental impacts.
- Maintain openness and areas of vegetation between residences to enhance a healthy environment.
- Achieve design compatibility between additions, remodeling and other new construction by establishing development standards.
Unlike the regulations that homeowners are subject to when remodeling their homes, the regulations for ADU development are set by the state and much of the intent of Zone A is ignored by those ADU rules. The state has determined that local government can only propose objective standards for ADUs such as height and setback and not subjective standards such as privacy, view and parking. From the Department of Housing and Community Development:
“ADUs must be considered, approved, and permitted ministerially, without discretionary action. Development and other decision-making standards must be sufficiently objective to allow for ministerial review. Examples include numeric and fixed standards such as heights or setbacks, or design standards such as colors or materials. Subjective standards require judgement and can be interpreted in multiple ways such as privacy, compatibility with neighboring properties or promoting harmony and balance in the community; subjective standards shall not be imposed for ADU development. Therefore, privacy standards would not be objective. HCD does not have benchmarks or criterion for privacy but we recommend working with your local community and planning department.”
In the draft Housing Element, the Planning Department is proposing to raise the allowable height limits of ADUs from 16 feet to 18 feet and in some cases 22 feet. Planning is also proposing to eliminate the requirement that the ADU be compatible with the main house. For example, a Tudor house with gable roof can install a Mediterranean bungalow with a flat roof with a 4-6 foot setback from the property line.
Piedmont has always balanced home remodels with protections of neighbors’ light, view and privacy and neighborhood compatibility, so it is disappointing to see the Planning Department conceding the only tools it has for protecting the residential zone from the impacts of ADUs — height and design compatibility. Planning claims these changes are needed to foster more ADU development in Piedmont to meet housing goals, but these changes have obvious detrimental impacts on neighboring properties.
Could the Planning Department not find other incentives for developing ADUs? For example, could not the FAR for the property be lowered or more square footage allowed for the ADU? These incentives would have less impact on neighboring properties than what Planning is proposing and would encourage better housing at that. There are likely tax incentives for developers of ADUs to rent to low-income tenants that would have no impact on neighboring properties – with record tax revenues, the City can afford it.
The Housing Element needs to do a better job of integrating ADU development with the residential character of Zone A.
Planning’s deference to ADU development begs the question — will Planning protect the light, view, and privacy of ADUs when neighboring properties submit remodel applications for their homes?
The deadline for comments on the draft Housing Element is Nov. 19. Visit Housing Element Update — Piedmont Housing Element for details on the Housing Element and to submit comments. There is a Dec. 2 Zoom workshop for the public comment on the Housing Element as well.