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Protect Neighborhoods In High Fire Zones From Marin County's Proposed Second Unit Regulations

The Marin County Planning Division is proposing a set of amendments to the Marin County Development Code, which establishes zoning and subdivision regulations in the unincorporated areas of Marin County. The proposed amendments address many topics, including incorporation of the 2019 Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) legislation into the development code.

Many residents are very concerned about the proposed Marin County ADU regulations because they endanger communities in the Wildlands Urban Interface (WUI) and in High Fire Hazard Zones with unsafe evacuation routes.

About the new Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) legislation enacted in 2019, which the proposed Marin County Development Code Amendments incorporate into the development code:

There are various advantages to adding an Accessory Dwelling Unit or second unit to a home. For homeowners, the extra unit can provide additional income, support family members such as adult children or aging parents and house on-site caregivers. In addition, the units may provide additional affordable housing, although this is not guaranteed. When local jurisdictions craft careful Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinances, these second units can fit seamlessly into an established community.

However, by requiring "ministerial" review and stripping away local control of land use, local development standards, community engagement, and environmental review related to second units, the new ADU laws went too far.

Ministerial” approval streamlines the permit process and eliminates discretionary review, environmental review, and public hearings, thereby stifling public engagement, democracy, high-quality development, and environmental protections.

Most worrisome, is the fact that the new ADU laws endanger communities in the Wildlands Urban Interface and in High Fire Hazard Zones with unsafe evacuation routes. This is because the laws dramatically increase potential housing density and population (potentially more than doubling the population) in these hazardous communities, while reducing or eliminating off-street parking requirements for ADUs and the primary single-family homes. This will lead to streets being overcrowded with parked cars. Dire consequences could result during an emergency when residents are unable to evacuate and fire trucks/paramedics are unable to reach their destinations.

If Marin County amends its development code to incorporate the new ADU laws, without also incorporating “The Remedy” discussed below, then the County will also endanger communities in the WUI and High Fire Hazard Zones with unsafe evacuation routes.

About Assembly Bill - 68 “Land Use: Accessory Dwelling Units”:

Assembly Bill - 68 (the worst newly enacted ADU law) requires a jurisdiction to "ministerially" approve a permit application for building two Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) (one of which can be detached) in addition to the primary residence, for a total of 3 housing units per lot in single family zones. It also greatly relaxes ADUs' development standards (E.g. parking, size requirements, setbacks, etc.).

More specifically, the law requires jurisdictions to “ministerially” allow a homeowner, in single family neighborhoods, to build a detached backyard residence that is at least 800-square-feet (the proposed County Development Code Amendments allow 1200 sq. ft.) and 16-feet-high with only four-foot side and rear setbacks, as well as convert a garage, office or spare room into a third living space. The size of the two additional units can be over and above the existing allowable square footage (Floor Area Ratio - FAR) for the primary home.

In addition, the law prohibits local governments from imposing any parking requirements for Accessory Dwelling Units that are located within one-half mile of a bus stop or within one block of a car share vehicle.

Furthermore, according to AB-68, if a garage is converted to a dwelling unit, then there is no requirement for additional off-street parking to be provided. The result would be absolutely no off-street parking for the ADUs and the main single-family home. All residents would have to park on the street.

The Remedy:

Yet, the law provides a remedy (see the excerpt of AB-68 below), which the cities of Larkspur and Corte Madera adopted, and which hopefully Marin County will adopt too.

Excerpt from AB-68:

"65852.2.
(a) (1) A local agency may, by ordinance, provide for the creation of accessory dwelling units in areas zoned to allow single-family or multifamily use. The ordinance shall do all of the following:

(A) Designate areas within the jurisdiction of the local agency where accessory dwelling units may be permitted. The designation of areas may be based on criteria that may include, but are not limited to, the adequacy of water and sewer services and the impact of accessory dwelling units on traffic flow and public safety

The remedy allows a jurisdiction to decide where Accessory Dwelling Units may and may not be automatically permitted. The City of Larkspur did this by adding a section to its Municipal Code entitled; "Restricted Areas for Accessory Dwelling Units". The County of Marin could do the same.

Unincorporated Marin, if it so chooses, could prohibit homeowners from automatically building Accessory Dwelling Units in the Wildlands Urban Interface (WUI) and in High Fire Hazard Areas with unsafe evacuation routes, where the proposed ADU(s), subsequent population growth, and resultant increase in vehicles parked on congested, inadequate roadways would impede emergency access and evacuation in the event of a fire or other emergency. However, if conditions are safe (E.g. the homeowner provides off-street parking for the ADUs and the single-family home), then the ADU(s) would be allowed with a variance or waiver.

Recommended Wording For New “Restricted Areas for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)” Section (in green):

Due to Unincorporated Marin’s unique local climatic, geologic and topographic conditions, accessory dwelling units are not permitted in certain hillside residential areas that are determined to have inadequate roadways to provide adequate ingress and egress for emergency access and evacuation in the event of a fire or other emergency. It is the determination of the County of Marin that additional dwelling units in these areas would present adverse impacts on traffic flow and public safety.

A. New accessory dwelling units are not permitted in the Wildlands Urban Interface (WUI) and in High Fire Hazard Zones, per Marin County Development Code Section _____ , where the primary access to the property is on roadways that are subject to constrained ingress/egress for emergency vehicles and resident evacuation. In determining which areas are subject to constrained ingress/egress, the County of Marin identified areas with unsafe evacuation routes, meeting one or more of the following criteria:

1. Streets with insufficient roadway width.

2. One-lane roadways allowing two-way traffic.

3. Remote areas not served by improved or paved roads.

4. Highly congested roadways

B. The restrictions of subsection (A) of this section shall apply to all properties that have vehicular access from:

List Districts, Neighborhoods, or Streets…

C. An owner may apply for a waiver from the restrictions on accessory dwelling units established by this section. The waiver shall be considered for approval or denial by the Zoning Administrator, who shall make such determination after consultation with the Fire Department. In deciding whether or not to grant the requested waiver, the Zoning Administrator shall consider factors related to ingress/egress for emergency vehicles and resident evacuation. These factors may include, but are not limited to, whether there are multiple routes of ingress or egress to the property, the distance from the property to the closest road with unconstrained ingress and egress, and the amount of off-street parking at the site.

For more details, please scroll down to read Sustainable TamAlmonte’s attached letter to the Planning Commission regarding the proposed Marin County Development Code Amendments pertaining to Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).

TAKE ACTION!

1. Write:

Please write a letter similar to Sustainable TamAlmonte’s, or, if you don't have time to write your own letter, then write a short endorsement of Sustainable TamAlmonte’s letter. Send your comments, letters, emails to the Marin County Planning Commission, c/o Planning Manager Jeremy Tejirian:

Jeremy Tejirian, Planning Manager
County of Marin Community Development Agency
3501 Civic Center Drive, Suite #308
San Rafael, CA 94903

JTejirian@marincounty.org

(415) 473-3798

SAMPLE ENDORSEMENT EMAIL/LETTER:

"Dear Marin County Planning Commission,

We endorse Sustainable TamAlmonte's letter, dated November 10, 2020, to you regarding the proposed Marin County Development Code Amendments pertaining to Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).

We urge you to ensure public safety in the event of a fire or other emergency by adding a "Restricted Areas for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)" section to the Marin County Development Code. Such a section would prohibit Accessory Dwelling Units in the Wildlands Urban Interface (WUI) and in High Fire Hazard Areas where conditions are unsafe and the ADUs, subsequent increase in population, and resultant increase in vehicles parked on congested and/or inadequate roadways, would impede emergency access and evacuation in the event of a fire or other emergency. However, if conditions are determined by the Zoning Administrator to be safe, then the units would be allowed with a variance or a waiver.

Sincerely,

YOUR NAME"

2. Attend the Upcoming Planning Commission Hearings:

WHAT: Planning Commission Workshop re: Proposed Marin County Development Code Amendments

WHEN: Monday, November 16, 2020 at 1:00 PM

WHERE: Join the Zoom meeting by following directions on the Planning Commission hearings webpage at:

https://www.marincounty.org/depts/cd/divisions/planning/boards-commissions-and-public-hearings/planning-commission-hearings-page


WHAT: Planning Commission Hearing re: Proposed Marin County Development Code Amendments. The Planning Commission will consider a recommendation to the Marin County Board of Supervisors

WHEN: Monday, November 30, 2020 at 1:00 PM

WHERE: Join the Zoom meeting by following directions on the Planning Commission hearings webpage at:

https://www.marincounty.org/depts/cd/divisions/planning/boards-commissions-and-public-hearings/planning-commission-hearings-page

3. Read Marin County’s Information About the Proposed Development Code Amendments:

Here is a link to the Proposed Marin County Development Code Amendments webpage:

https://www.marincounty.org/depts/cd/divisions/planning/dev-code-amendments-2020

The webpage includes the draft amendments and the corresponding public notice, which includes information about the upcoming Planning Commission hearings, a staff report and a summary of the amendments.

4. Spread the word:

Share this article with all your contacts and post the following link in social media:

https://marinpost.org/blog/2020/11/14/protect-neighborhoods-in-high-fire-zones-from-proposed-county-second-unit-regulations

Thank you in advance for taking action. Together we can make a difference!

Tags

ADU, Second units, Assembly Bill 68, Accessory Dwelling Unit legislation