Appeal of ‘granny flats’ grows, but challenges to build local units … – North Bay Business Journal


Granny flat have evolved from makeshift additions for an older relative to live out her days to stylish dwellings that could win architectural and design awards.

No longer are these units inhabited just by a certain age group either. That’s because in addition to people constructing accessory dwelling units for family, they are being built as a revenue source for their owners.

Ash Notaney and Debbie Rossotti pivoted midstream as they were having an accessory dwelling unit built in Agua Caliente in unincorporated Sonoma County.

The full time San Francisco residents purchased the property in fall 2020 with the intention of building an ADU to accompany the 700-square-foot log cabin already on the acreage. The plan was for it to be a rental.

“We ended up falling in love with the building and this is going to be our forever house,” Notaney told the Journal. Before that can happens they need to get their children through school.

For now the nearly 1,000-square-foot two-story A-frame is being rented out to traveling nurses and the like — anyone who will stay 30 days or longer to satisfy county laws on short-term rentals.

The two-bedroom house has full bath rooms on each floor. It comes with a complete kitchen, spiral staircase and upgraded amenities. Rossotti did not share the cost of its construction. Notaney said through the process the Sonoma County planners were helpful I cutting the red tape.

“We landscaped the entire property and added a pool. There’s an outside sitting area and fire pit so there is shared space (for the two houses). The driveway can accommodate four cars side by side so each property could have two cars,” Notaney said.

Permit process needs help

In order to put a dent in California’s housing shortage, state and local lawmakers have eliminated a substantial amount of red tape to allow homeowners to build second residences on a property.

“New legislation made ADUs more attractive to homeowners because the application review process became more streamlined. ADUs are subject to ministerial review, have reduced building impact fees, reduced parking and setback requirements, and no longer require the owner-occupancy of sites until Jan. 1, 2025,” explained Erin Morris, Vacaville’s community development director.

The desire to encourage ADU construction throughout the state is being promoted as a way to combat the state’s escalating housing shortage.

“The state is seeing we need to streamline, and that we need to take bigger steps to get ADUs built as one piece of the housing solution,” Renee Schomp, director of Napa Sonoma ADU Center, said.

In the last 18 months the nonprofit has helped 550 homeowners in Sonoma and Napa counties start the ADU process.

Number of units is increasing

Nail by nail tweaking of building regulations is working. Local jurisdictions are seeing an uptick in ADU applications. In 2017, a state law mandated jurisdictions relax ADU requirements and many cities and counties followed suit with adopting their own ADU ordinances.

The spike ADUs In Santa Rosa Is not only the result the law change but the rebuilding after the Tubbs Fire that same year.

Prior to the Tubbs inferno, there were 26 ADUs in the Fountain Grove-Coffee Park neighborhoods. Since the fire 112 ADU permits have been issued for that area, with 61 finished, according to city spokesman Kevin King.

The city of Napa issued 26 ADU permits in 2021, while 33 have been issued in the first 10 months of this year.

San Rafael’s numbers are also going up. Alicia Giudice, community development director, said prior to 2018 the city approved about five ADUs a year. In 2018, 27 were granted, while between 2019-21 an average of 19 permits were issued each of those years. Through October this year 39 permits have been signed off.

In Marin County, from Jan. 1, 2020, through October 2022 there have been 173 ADU permits.

“We have never issued a denial letter or rejected a permit,” Manny Bereket, senior planner with the county’s Community Development Agency, told the Journal.

In the Napa Valley, Calistoga issued two ADU permits in 2019, one was built; in 2020 there were seven permits issued and one expired; 2021 saw eight permits and two completions; while this year through October eight more permits have been issued, with all of them in the process of being built, according the Lauren Clark in the city’s Planning Division.

Problems and constraints

With a track record of home construction lagging population growth, California’s Statewide Housing Plan calls an acceleration of new home construction over the next eight years with a target of 2.5 million homes. The plan breaks it down by the incomes of the prospective buyers:


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