HISWAI shows you what’s connected to topics that interest you, and where to find more. HISWAI members can curate information with dashboards to gain insights, proper context and stay up to date on the latest relevant information. Sharing these discoveries with others is easy too!
Date: 2021-02-07 19:41:15
Tags for this article:
Marin supervisors have embraced a policy for approving certain types of apartments in high-risk fire areas that is more permissive than recommended by the county Planning Commission.
The policy involves “accessory dwelling units,” also known as ADUs or in-law apartments. The supervisors unanimously approved the policy on Jan. 26 along with a number of development code amendments, many of which were necessary to bring county regulations into compliance with new state laws.
Sharon Rushton, who leads the community group Sustainable TamAlmonte, said its members are “very disappointed in the county’s revised accessory dwelling unit regulations.”
“We hope the supervisors will reconsider their decisions after they receive more information,” she said.
In a bid to address the state’s shortage of affordable housing, state legislators have passed a raft of new laws over recent years that severely limit local governments’ say in approving housing projects.
State laws that became effective in 2019 have extended preemptions of local control to construct ADUs.
State law divides ADUs into four categories based mainly on size. It allows virtually no local say concerning “category 1″ ADUs — proposed apartments that are 800 square feet or smaller, and apartments created within a legal existing home or outbuilding.
Nevertheless, the development code amendments approved by the Planning Commission prohibited all four categories of ADUs in wildland urban interface zones and very high fire hazard severity zones.
The only exception the Planning Commission allowed was for properties that have direct vehicle access to a “street network with a continuous minimum paved width of at least 20 feet from the property to an arterial street or highway.”
Deciding that the language was too restrictive, supervisors eliminated the evacuation access requirement for category 1 ADUs, and changed the language governing the other three categories exempting properties located in wildland urban interface zones. The restriction for these three categories now apply only to properties in high fire hazard severity zones.
According to the Marin Community Wildfire Protection Plan, released in 2016, 60,000 acres, or 18% of the county’s land area, falls within the wildland urban interface. The plan estimated that 69,000 of the county’s 106,679 residences were located in the wildland urban interface, or WUI.
“Because of the mix and density of structure and natural fuels combined with limited access and egress routes, fire management becomes more complex in WUI environments,” the report said.
It added that in Marin County many of the access roads within the WUI are narrow and winding and are often on hillsides with overgrown vegetation, making it difficult to protect homes and lives in these areas.
When the Planning Commission approved the more restrictive development code language in December, commissioner Don Dickenson said he visited the Oakland Hills after the firestorm there in 1991.
“We saw what happened when people were trying to get out of the fire in their cars,” Dickenson said. “I believe we have a responsibility as public officials to, where we can, limit increased density in areas with restricted access.”
During the supervisors’ meeting, Rushton urged the board to adopt even tighter restrictions on ADU approvals than the Planning Commission had approved. Rushton said the state’s more liberal laws could increase population density in high fire risk areas while reducing off-street parking.
“Dire consequences could result during an emergency when residents are unable to evacuate and fire crews or paramedics are unable to reach their destinations,” Rushton said. “All there needs to be is one blockage, and an entire section of a community could perish.”
But several supervisors and Tom Lai, interim director of the Marin County Community Development Agency, expressed concern that tighter restrictions on ADUs in the WUI would make it difficult for Marin County to create the amount of new housing mandated by the state.
Under the current regional blueprint, Marin County and local municipalities would be required to build more than 14,000 new residences throughout the county between 2022 and 2030. The supervisors discussed the new housing mandate at the meeting prior to taking up the development code changes.
In a November letter objecting to the size of the housing assignment, Supervisor Katie Rice wrote that the county might not be able to meet the goal “unless we put housing in environmentally sensitive areas, prone to fires, flooding and sea level rise.”
Later that same day when reviewing the development code changes, however, Rice said, “I am concerned that the restrictions with regards to limiting the ADUs especially within the entire WUI is really restrictive and counter to our interests in having ADUs be part of our solution around housing.”
Lai said, “Given that the numbers we’re facing are so large for the next eight-year cycle, I would be concerned if we make it too restrictive and curtail the ability for sufficient ADUs to be built.”
Jeremy Tejirian, a Marin County planning manager, told supervisors that the Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority is about to launch a study that will rate Marin fire evacuation routes based on risk. He estimated it will take a year to 18 months to complete the study.
Supervisor Stephanie Moulton-Peters said she favored waiting until the information on evacuation routes was available before amending the code. Nevertheless, she ultimately voted along with the other supervisors to approve the more lenient rules.