Side House

Builder Ethan Hare’s construction company went from zero accessory dwelling units (ADUs) at the start of the year to 10 now in various stages of design and approvals.

Builder Ethan Hare has seen commercial projects go “nearly flat” during Covid-19 while residential renovations and new construction continue to increase. His namesake company’s biggest uptick is in construction of accessory dwelling units – attached or detached living spaces on existing properties.

The sudden surge in interest in ADUs is no coincidence. On Jan. 1, new state regulations took effect superseding city and county ADU rules, streamlining the ability to add ADUs and junior accessory dwelling units – efficiency units built within an existing home – to the housing mix. Under the state rules, ADUs are approved through building departments and not through public hearings. The laws limit cities’ and counties’ abilities to impose regulations, like strict parking requirements, that in the past made adding ADUs nearly impossible.

“The state law cracks the door open, particularly for those with single-family homes,” says Monterey Principal Planner Ande Flower. Previously the city required a minimum 5,000-square-foot lot size, but minimum lot sizes are not allowed under state law. Also opening the door a little wider are recently passed ordinances by the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District that change previous requirements that made adding ADUs challenging.

Municipalities may create their own rules that fit within state regulations, which is why the Monterey Planning Commission is scheduled on Oct. 27 to discuss and give guidance to planners on updating the city’s existing ADU ordinance. Flower’s goal is to create flexible rules that will facilitate constructing units that fit neighborhoods.

Flower serves on the United Way Monterey County ADU advisory group, which with the American Institute of Architects Monterey Bay put on a series of online workshops recently that attracted more than 500 participants, according to Kelly de Wolfe, United Way’s associate for affordable housing. In addition to public education, the group partnered with the city of Seaside to build two ADUs using a grant from AARP both to rent out and as a demonstration for others to follow.

United Way Executive Director Katy Castagna says the nonprofit decided about a year ago to be the “backbone support” for the region to diversify and increase the housing stock and create stability for workers as well as families who could use ADUs as an income stream. ADUs also provide flexibility for caring for older family members, or allowing young adult children to remain in the area, Castagna says.

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