April 28, 2017
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RP makes changes to city code for ADUs

By: Dave Williams
March 31, 2017

The Rohnert Park City Council passed an ordinance to bring its Municipal Code in compliance with state law where accessory dwelling units (ADU) are concerned. The vote was unanimous, but some of the councilmembers gave their yes votes reluctantly.

The ordinance is in response to Gov. Brown last year signing into law two pieces of legislation requiring cities to substantially revise their ADU regulations. Rohnert Park’s second dwelling unit ordinance fell out of compliance at the start of the year because it didn’t comply with state law.

The fact the state even ordered these changes was particularly irksome to Vice Mayor Pam Stafford.

“I’m very disappointed the state is imposing (ordinances) these on the cities,” she said. “I think they’re overstepping what they should be doing. They should allow us to decide for our own cities. I think it’s shameful for them to impose this on us.”

Councilman Joe Callinan, who is a contractor, has built a number of ADUs. He said the new ordinances won’t affect too many people because most of the lots in Rohnert Park are too small for an ADU. That’s not the case with Stafford, who is concerned about the quality of an ADU should someone chose to build one.

“I could put two of these units in my backyard,” Stafford said. “I have a 10,000 sq. ft. backyard. It could change the flavor of a neighborhood. People are going to slap things together and they’re not going to look as good.”

The first change mandated by the state is in the name itself. Municipal codes must now refer to accessory dwelling units rather than secondary dwelling units. Also, the increased floor area of an attached ADU cannot exceed 50 percent of the existing living area, with a maximum increase in floor area of 1,200 sq. ft. And the total area of a detached ADU cannot be more than 1,200 sq. ft.

Under state law, a city may require a new or separate utility connection directly between the ADU and the utility. The connection may be subject to a connection fee or capacity charge based upon either its size or the number of its plumbing fixtures, upon the water or sewer system. 

According to a Rohnert Park city staff report, ADUs for the most part will continue to be subject to the same height, setback and lot coverage requirements that apply to single-family homes in the same zoning district. As will the requirement that the unit is architecturally compatible with the principal residence. A significant change in the state law limits the ability of local agencies to collect water and sewer connection fees for certain new ADUs. The high cost of connection fees is a major obstacle to ADU construction, and this change is expected to lower costs of many new ADUs significantly. Regular detached ADUs may still be charged a reasonable cost for water and sewer connection fees, to the extent that they impact existing infrastructure. However, new ADUs constructed within an already existing building envelope are exempted from providing separate connections or paying associated fees.