Pleasanton homeowners will no longer pay development impact fees when adding a smaller accessory dwelling unit (ADU) to their property, under proposed updates to the city's master fee schedule endorsed by the City Council in a 4-1 vote on Tuesday night.
The vote followed more than an hour of staff discussion and amending the original motion to prohibit second-story ADUs, including those built atop detached garages, with Councilman Jack Balch casting the sole dissenting vote.
Since Jan. 1, California cities must now approve new detached ADUs with only a building permit -- as is done for converted ADUs -- and without applying any standards except a maximum 800 square feet, 16-foot height limit and 4-foot setbacks.
Adopting the second-story ADU exclusion is one way for the city to retain some local control over increased density, according to Vice Mayor Julie Testa.
"I support ADUs. I think done right and done with consideration of the neighborhood, they're a very good asset to our community," Testa said. "But the way this law mandates us and takes that away, to say we're just going to give that blanket approval on the ADU over the garage that we do not have to give, knowing that we won't be able to individualize for a neighborhood or a neighbor, I think is a big mistake."
Under the fee update, the city would no longer receive impact fees for new ADUs measuring 749 square feet or less. Reduced impact fees would still be received for ADUs totaling 750 square feet or more, as required by the state. A deed restriction would also no longer be required, and existing deeds could be extinguished by the city at the property owner's request.
Known also as in-law units, among other names, ADUs may be completely within an existing single-family home, or built as an extension or a detached unit. Junior accessory dwelling units (JADUs) are similar but located completely within a single-family dwelling, and are no more than 500 square feet in size.
Over recent years, supporters have advocated for the units as a viable solution to the regional affordable housing crisis, with shorter construction timelines and less expense to build.
City staff said the intent of the new state legislation is to provide greater flexibility when it comes to building and converting existing space to ADUs and JADUs, limit impact fees and streamline approvals by eliminating discretionary review.
The new law also requires no owner-occupancy can be imposed on the ADU of the primary residence for units approved between 2020 and 2025, according to city senior planner Shweta Bonn.
"However, the Planning Commission recommended that owner-occupancy requirements be removed for all ADUs, irrespective of when they were approved," Bonn said, adding that owner-occupancy between the primary residence and a JADU can still be required, though.
Balch objected to prohibiting new second-story ADUs, and referred to the Walnut Hills neighborhood as "a perfect example" of how the units can complement, rather than conflict, with the community.
Mayor Karla Brown said, "I've seen many good units over a garage and I've seen some really bad ones," adding that neighboring homeowners need to be considered before approving a second-level ADU.
"If I bought a unit specifically to be able to see the ridge and now I can't see the ridge anymore, I would be very upset and it would change my property value, so I just can't support that," Brown said.
Balch replied, "If I bought a home and planned to let my child stay there or move into it and an ADU was approved by the (planned-unit development) as an already existing condition and now it's being prohibited, it would decrease the value of my lot."
Brown countered, "If I bought a unit and it didn't have a place over the garage and now I want to insist that I can get one, I don't think that's reasonable. It affects your neighbors."
Resident Paul Zampierin, who phoned in during public comment, said that while rejecting the state mandate isn't possible, "what is feasible is to make a statement for our community and for state legislators by doing the absolute bare minimum required by the state law," and urged the council "to maintain as much control as possible."
"You don't need to accept change in the owner occupancy except for new ADUs. If you do so, you will essentially be extending the state and approving their mandate beyond 2025," Zampierin said. "Please err on the side of neighbors and neighborhoods wherever possible. Don't turn a poor state law into poor city municipal codes."
The 4-1 vote Tuesday approved the first reading of the proposed ordinance to enact the fee changes. The second reading and final adoption is expected to take place at the next council meeting.