City Council OKs new ADU plans and design standards for multifamily and mixed-use buildings

Sam Richards

Multifamily building at Linda and Kingston

The City Council this week approved changes to the city’s Design Guidelines allowing for preapproved design plans for accessory dwelling units and objective design standards for multifamily and mixed-use buildings — both moves aimed at making it easier to add affordable housing units to Piedmont’s housing stock.

The intended effect of the changes is to streamline the review process, including a process for new projects to meet city requirements with “ministerial” approval, generally more straightforward than “subjective” approval. City officials hope these changes will incentivize residents to apply to create an ADU on their property, help generate more applications for building multifamily housing — apartments, for instance, and remove barriers that discourage such housing.

ADUs and multifamily housing typically fall under the “affordable” category, which is a key portion of the city’s state-mandated sixth cycle Housing Element for planning of future residential growth in Piedmont. The city must submit a plan for how the city will accommodate 587 new residences by 2031; of that number, 163 (28 percent) should be extremely- or very-low-income units, and 94 of them (16 percent) should be low-income.

“This is a big lever to use to get affordable units in our community,” Mayor Jen Cavenaugh said.

Preapproved design plans for ADUs could be submitted as-is to receive a planning permit, but detailed construction and engineering plans unique to a site’s slope and soil conditions would still need to be developed for each unit. ADUs built in line with the city’s preapproved designs would be rent-restricted for 10 years.

Senior Planner Pierce Macdonald told the council other ADU designs that have been preapproved by the state are also options. In some cases, she said, state regulations regarding ADUs supersede local ones. 

There was a question about whether any city regulation requires people planning ADU projects to notify neighbors of those plans. Kevin Jackson, Piedmont’s director of planning and building, said the city can’t require that, “But we always recommend you talk to your neighbors.”

Regarding multifamily project design standards, eligible multifamily and mixed-use commercial/residential development applications that conform to an established set of “measurable, objective standards” for architectural elements, landscaping, parking, and site design will now be approved directly by staff without a public hearing, as provided by state laws.

Councilman Tom Ramsey said these new regulations are “effective guardrails” for negotiating the lengthy, time-consuming – and unfunded – state mandate that is the Housing Element process.  

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