Green Light for Granny Flats
Sutter County makes it easier to build Accessory Dwelling Units

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Happy Days’ “The Fonz” lived in an Accessory Dwelling Unit over the Cunninghams’ garage in 1950s-era Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

June 19, 2019: Whether it is called a granny flat, a carriage house, an in-law unit, a backyard cabin, or even a Fonzie flat, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) offer an inexpensive and environmentally friendly way to boost housing. 

California effectively made ADUs legal throughout the state in 2017 but legal does not always mean easy. Local regulations such as mandating parking spaces, large set-backs, or lot coverage requirements can, intentionally or not, make it difficult for ADUs to be built or approved. 

That is why one of the key sections in SACOG’s Housing Policy Toolkit is a series of suggestions for cities and counties on how to make it easier for people to get ADUs approved.  

Sutter County’s principal planner Doug Libby was overhauling other miscellaneous zoning rules and saw the opportunity to remove some red tape by adopting some of the Toolkit recommendations. He proposed eliminating the county’s parking requirement for ADUs, reducing the rear and side yard set-back, and increasing the maximum percent lot coverage requirement. The Board of Supervisors approved those changes in its June meeting and they will take effect on July 11. 

As Libby pointed out in his report, “in other areas where ADUs have been long established, the effect of ADUs on parking has been determined to be negligible because it is unlikely that multiple ADUs will be built in a neighborhood and localized like a commercial corridor. The impact to parking was determined to be insignificant. At the end of 2018, four out of twenty-eight SACOG member jurisdictions have adopted this requirement.” 

Increasing the maximum percent lot coverage requirement allows for more room to build an ADU. For example, on a 6,000 sf lot with a 2,000 sf house and a 40 percent coverage maximum, the available space for an ADU is just 400 sf. Raising the maximum coverage to 50 percent increases that to 1000 sf, making it much more attractive as a housing option. 

The American Association of Retired Persons supports ADUs for many reasons but a key one they cite in their excellent guide is their ability to help seniors age in place in their communities, either by moving into an ADU and renting out the main dwelling (or vice versa) or renting an ADU to an adult child or other caregiver.  

And they make the point that ADUs have long been an important part of America’s housing stock — even Happy Days’ “The Fonz” lived in an ADU over the Cunninghams’ garage in 1950s-era Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Aaaay! ADUs are cool again. 

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