By Haley Sawyer
Accessory dwelling units have been popping up around Southern California increasingly, including in South Pasadena. Applications for the small, independent homes have increased more than five times in the city since 2017.
As residents’ interest in ADUs continues to grow, the City Council last week unanimously approved the introduction of an ordinance amending its zoning code to accommodate the units within the city’s typical land use framework. Without these ordinances, the state wields the authority to override local zoning codes deemed too restrictive.
“This proposed revision contains a number of important improvements,” Mayor Diana Mahmud said at the council’s March 17 meeting. “And, as I recall, there were some recent changes to ADU law and to the Housing and Community Development ADU handbook, which are incorporated into this revision.”
ADUs are residential dwelling units that sit on the same lot as an existing single-family or multi-family home. They can be detached or attached to the primary building. For example, a detached garage could be converted into an ADU.
The homes can be added to existing houses or included in new construction. They typically feature an efficiency kitchen and a separate or shared bathroom facility. There is also the junior ADU variation, an area of up to 500 square feet built within the envelope of an existing home.
ADUs are state-protected and are expected to provide relief to the housing crisis in California.
The Planning Commission presented a zoning code amendment at the council’s March 17 meeting to clarify the process and requirements of creating an ADU, address public safety concerns and comply with state law in a way that is best for South Pasadena.
The new code language defines what an application needs in order to be conferred complete. If the ADU is attached to the current home, the appropriate primary dwelling application is needed. Permits such as demolition, hillside development, tree removal and certificate of appropriateness could also be necessary.
For historic properties, ADUs must be in the rear of the primary home and at least 50% of the front-facing plane must be behind the existing building. It should not compete with the historic property’s defining characteristics or block its visibility.
One-story ADUs cannot exceed a height of 16 feet. For a two-story ADU, a flat roof must be less than 18 feet and a pitched roof must be less than 22 feet.
There were few changes to code when it came to parking. There should be one parking space for every three ADUs added, unless the home falls is considered exempt. Exceptions can be made if the ADU is within a half-mile walking distance of a bus stop or light rail station, within a historic district, under an existing accessory structure or within one block of a rideshare vehicle pickup zone.
South Pasadena residents voiced concerns about constructing ADUs in an area south of Monterey Road and west of Meridian Avenue, an area considered to be high-risk for fires.
To create the safest situation possible for an ADU in this area, the structure cannot be more than 150 feet back from the property line, so that hoses can reach the building in case of fire. Fire sprinklers are also required for all ADUs in a high-risk fire area.
“I am hesitant to further delay adoption of the proposed revisions to our ADU ordinance,” Mahmud said, “some of which are important and would be appreciated by members of the community that are seeking to construct an ADU.”
It’s the city’s hope that the amendments to the zoning code continue to make ADUs a popular choice and easy to build. The state has accepted them as part of the equation for meeting its housing construction goals — for example, neighboring San Marino has been meeting its Regional Housing Needs Assessment goals by allowing ADU construction on its properties.
Here in South Pasadena, the city faces a RHNA allocation — that is, simply allowing the circumstances for them to be built — of around 2,000 units within the next eight years.
Zane Hill contributed to this report.