Marin supervisors open doors for accessory units
Author: RIchard Halstead
Publication: Marin Independent Journal
Marin County supervisors took steps this week to encourage Marin residents to create accessory dwelling and junior accessory dwelling units.
The board voted Tuesday to extend a financial incentive to create junior accessory dwelling units for another year. The existing incentive program, created a year ago, covers the first $1,500 in building fee costs. A new financial incentive also was approved encouraging homeowners to create accessory units. The incentive program covers the first $3,500 in building fees.
The board voted to authorize the director of public works to waive roadway impact fees for junior units. And an ordinance was adopted that brings the county’s parking requirements in compliance with state law, thus freeing residents who are creating a junior or accessory dwelling unit in an existing to structure from having to provide additional parking.
“The purpose of reducing or waiving fees for these type of units,” said Community Development Agency Director Brian Crawford, “is to incentivize property owners to create them within their single-family dwellings as a means of expanding our supply of potential rental housing, hopefully affordable rental housing.”
The fostering of accessory dwelling unit and junior unit creation is one of supervisors’ main strategies for addressing the county’s affordable housing crisis – along with an effort to convince more Marin landlords to accept Section 8 housing vouchers paid for by the federal government.
An accessory dwelling unit is loosely defined as a detached or attached secondary dwelling unit with complete independent living facilities for one or more people. That includes permanent provisions for sleeping, cooking and sanitation.
State law defines a junior accessory dwelling unit as a unit that is no more than 500 square feet in size and contained entirely within an existing single-family structure. A junior accessory dwelling unit may feature its own separate sanitation facilities or share sanitation facilities with the existing structure.
In 2017 and 2018, Marin County issued 11 building permits for accessory dwelling units and five building permits for junior units. All five of the junior units qualified for building permit fee reductions. The median fee waiver amounted to $547. One of the participants received the full $1,500 reduction and still had to pay an additional $710. Fees vary depending on how extensive the remodeling requirements are.
Three of the five junior unit projects were required to pay roadway impact fees, which averaged $317 each. Two of the junior unit projects were not charged a fee due to their modest construction valuations.
County staff estimates the extension and expansion of the incentive program may cost the county a total of $50,000 over the next 12 months.
Michael Hagerty, a member of the Marin Commission on Aging, was among several members of the public who voiced support for the expanded incentives. In a report issued last year, “Older Adult Housing in Marin: Planning for 2030,” the commission found that Marin has a major shortage of affordable units for older adults and stated that junior units and accessory dwelling units could help fill that need and allow residents to age in place.
“So we highly support this,” Hagerty said.
Linda Jackson, a member of the Aging Action Initiative, said, “We have a housing crisis in Marin, and because we have a housing crisis we have a commuting crisis, and because we have commuting crisis we have an employment crisis. This is one of the solutions to the housing crisis.”
Stacey Laumann, a project manager at Community Land Trust Association of West Marin, said, “I can attest to the fact that this program is working. The fee reductions significantly lower the barrier to making this happen.”
Laumann said through its Real Community Rentals program CLAM has helped five West Marin residents to create junior accessory dwelling units and is currently working with a homeowner who is in the process creating a junior unit and another property owner who is creating an accessory dwelling unit.
Contacted after the meeting, Novato Community Development Director Bob Brown said that while junior accessory dwelling units and accessory dwelling units can play a role in addressing the affordable housing shortage the issue needs to be addressed on all fronts.
“We’re probably approving on average of five or 10 a year,” Brown said. “That is probably a small percentage of our total housing need.”
Like Marin County, several Marin municipalities are relying on junior accessory dwelling units and accessory dwelling units to help them meet state-mandated targets for fostering the creation of their fair share of needed affordable housing. The accessory units are particularly attractive because they don’t require jurisdictions to rezone to allow denser housing projects.
“The JADUs and the ADUs are generally pretty well received by jurisdictions because we don’t get a lot of the backlash from the community,” Brown said. “They’re very well-distributed. They’re for the most part relatively invisible.”
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