Permit Sonoma

Permit Sonoma -- Representatives of Permit Sonoma joined the Sebastopol Building and Planning Departments, the Sonoma Public Housing Authority, Share Sebastopol and a half dozen other housing-related agencies and organizations for Raise the Roof!, a housing expo in Sebastopol.

City and county incentivize ADUs, JADUs and small homes

Raise the Roof!, a housing fair and expo put on by the County of Sonoma and City of Sebastopol, drew 150 curious attendees to the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center on Sunday, Nov. 4. The event featured panel discussions and a bustling housing expo, staffed by representatives of Permit Sonoma, the Sebastopol Building and Planning Departments, the Sonoma Public Housing Authority, Share Sebastopol and a half dozen other housing-related agencies and organizations.

Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins and Sebastopol Mayor Patrick Slayter kicked off the event by giving a broad overview of what the county and city are doing to solve Sonoma County’s housing crisis.

Their message was clear: both city and county are working hard to develop new and different types of housing as fast as possible, lowering permit fees, changing regulations, and, for the first time, looking beyond the single-family home as the end-all-be-all model for housing.

New rules and lower fees for ADUs and JADUs

Until recently, adding a second unit to your property in Sebastopol and west county was prohibitively expensive, but the fires and a new state law on accessory dwelling units or ADUs (formerly known as granny units) did what years of kvetching on the part of residents and builders had failed to do — forced the city and county agencies to lower the fees that kept people from building second units — or at least, kept them from doing it legally.

ADUs can be either stand-alone cottages or attached to existing homes. They can range from 150 square feet (the minimum, according to state building codes) to 1,200 square feet. A junior accessory dwelling unit (JADU) is built inside the footprint of an existing house, and both the county and city of Sebastopol limit them to a maximum of 500 square feet.

Both the city and county have increased the allowable size for ADUs and decreased the parcel size on which ADUs can be built.

In the city of Sebastopol, according to Planning Director Kari Svanstrom, homeowners with lots up to 10,000 square feet can now build an ADU up to 840 square feet, while homeowners with lots over 10,000 square feet can build an ADU up to 1,200 square feet. The city has pegged permit fees to the size of the ADU. 

In the county, a one-acre property with well and septic system can now host an ADU up to 640 square feet with one bedroom. A two-acre property with well and septic can have an ADU of up to 1,200 square feet with multiple bedrooms.

Permitting fees have also come down for ADUs, but they’re still not cheap. JADUs, on the other hand, are a relative bargain. In Sebastopol, adding an 840-square-foot ADU will cost you approximately $10,790 in permit fees. Building a 500-square-foot JADU costs a little more than half that, about $4,900 in permit fees.

The price differential is similar in unincorporated parts of the county. To build an 840-square foot ADU in the county will cost you between $15,481 and $36,773 in permit fees. (Properties on well and septic come in at the high end, while properties with water and sewer are on the low end.) Impact fees are waived for ADUs under 750 square feet which saves about $5,000.

For the biggest bang for your buck, Jane Riley of Permit Sonoma suggests you build a JADU, a point she reiterated so many times that the audience began to laugh every time she brought them up. “You guys, it’s really cheap to develop a junior accessory dwelling unit. There are no fees, and you can go down to IKEA and buy one of those plug-in kitchens for about $3,000. Just sayin’.”

In both the city and the county, JADUs must have a separate entrance, though they can share a bathroom with the main house, lowering building costs even further. Instead of full kitchens, JADUs have inexpensive kitchenettes with 120-watt electric appliances and no gas.

In Sebastopol, JADUs are only allowed in owner-occupied properties, though the owner can choose to live in the smaller JADU or in the main house. In the county, homes with JADUs do not have to be owner occupied.

Both the city and the county are currently forbidding newly constructed ADUs and JADUs from being rented out short term via companies like Airbnb or VRBO. “You can’t rent them short term because the intention is to add to the permanent housing stock,” said Kari Svanstrom, planning director for the city of Sebastopol.

Cottage housing, a new type of development, encourages smaller homes

Starting on Nov. 22, the county will start accepting applications for a new type of housing development called “cottage housing,” which features clusters of up to three small homes per parcel.

Hopkins told the audience at Raise the Roof, “We’re trying to get people to think smaller to enhance the diversity of our housing portfolio beyond these 3,000-square-foot single-family homes, which are not affordable to the majority of the people who live and work in this area.”

“The average square footage in Sonoma County of a single family home is 2,700 square feet,” she said. “Isn’t that crazy? So we said, well, if you can build a 2,700-square-foot house on a lot, why couldn’t you break it down and build three smaller houses totaling 2,700 square feet? So now you can build up to 2,700 square feet in three units, with an average size of 900 square feet.”

“We’re trying to make something that is affordable by design,” Hopkins said.

According to the county literature on Cottage Housing Developments, they are allowed in both low-density (R1) and medium-density (R2) residential zones on parcels of at least 8,000 square feet. The property must be served by sewers, not septic.

Cottage developments have shared parking areas and shared open space, though each house is allowed 60 square feet of private yard.

Tiny homes can be used for cottage housing developments as long as they meet building codes and are placed on permanent foundations.

Changes at the county and a change of heart

In addition to its ADU/JADU and cottage housing policies, the county has made several other changes, according to Hopkins.  Transitional and supportive housing is now allowed in all zoning districts that allow single-family homes. The county has also upped the percentage of mixed-use developments that can be used for housing.

“And finally,” said Hopkins, “we are reducing permitting requirements and focusing on streamlining projects that meet our goals for affordability. So if you’re going to build affordable housing, we want to be your partner and we want to get it done as quickly as we can.”

At the end of Raise the Roof, Hopkins made a special plea to the people of Sonoma County and especially to development-leery west county-ites.

“Stand up for housing,” Hopkins said. “Don’t have a knee-jerk reaction against housing developments in your neighborhood. Be a YIMBY, not a NIMBY. It’ll make all the difference.”

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