On June 12th, the San Jose Planning Department will bring recommendations forward to the City Council to revise the City’s Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinance to increase the number of lots that will qualify and to incorporate other changes that would increase the feasibility of new ADU development.  ADUs are a more naturally affordable housing type for lower- and moderate-income families, caregivers, children, parents, and other relatives.  ADUs can also help homeowners faced with high home prices by creating rental income that enables them to stay in place.

As required by recent legislation introduced by Senator Bob Wieckowski, jurisdictions throughout the State were required to revise their ordinances to simplify the process and expand opportunities.  As a result of this legislation, the number of ADU permits in San Jose increased from 38 in 2016 to 129 last year.  Senator Wieckowski has introduced legislation this session– SB 831— which will make further changes to ADU law.  Changes include:

  • Eliminating all local fees
  • Creating a temporary amnesty program to evaluate existing, unpermitted units
  • Requiring automatic approval of any ADU permit application where a jurisdiction has not acted within 120 days

We are happy to see that San Jose is recommending revisions to its ordinance and appreciate all of the work and all of the outreach they conducted.  The staff recommendations include several important features:

  • Integrating new State standards on parking requirements per transit
  • Lowering minimum lot sizes to 3,000 square feet (currently 5,445)
  • Creating additional flexibility around replacement parking
  • Allowing second story units over garages

SV@Home supports these changes, but requests that the Council consider a few additional changes:

  • Staff recommends that ADUs incorporate the architectural style and similar materials of the primary dwelling, including but not limited to roofing, siding, windows, and doors.  While we agree that the ADU should blend in with the primary home, we believe this requirement is overly prescriptive, adds costs, and makes it more difficult to consider modular design.
  • Staff recommends no change to the number of bedrooms allowed, even though the size of allowable ADUs is increased.  We recommend that the staff allow up to two bedrooms for larger ADU sizes to accommodate individual needs.
  • Staff recommends that rear yard coverage requirements remain at 40%.  We strongly recommend that this percentage be changed to 50% or 60% given the increase in unit size and decrease in lot size recommendations.  If it remains at 40%, then most of the smaller lots will be infeasible, and many of the larger units will be infeasible.
  • Staff recommends allowing a second story to an existing zero lot line structure such as a garage, but is requiring a 5-foot setback on the second floor.  We recommend that the second floor be aligned with the first floor, but that for privacy, no windows or only high window sills be included on the lot line side.  Requiring a 5-foot setback on an existing unit will decrease the potential size of the unit and make the design look awkward.
  • We recommend that the City eliminate fees for ADUs to reduce costs and increase feasibility. As mentioned, this change is now included in legislation being considered in Sacramento.

SV@Home will be making these recommendations to the City Council at the upcoming Council meeting.  Additionally, we will be asking that the Council ensure that the Council Priority relating to existing, unpermitted ADUs be implemented.