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Alhambra City Council takes up discussion on Accessory Dwelling Units

Photo by David Muñoz.


Alhambra , CA United States

An item on Monday’s City Council agenda could change how Alhambra considers approving the construction of accessory dwelling units or second units on a property containing a primary single-family residence.

Alhambra resident Danny Tang is challenging the Department of Public Works’ requirements that he install and pay for improvements on the streets and sidewalks next to his property at 1202 S Sierra Vista Ave, in order to convert a garage into an accessory dwelling unit. The requirements include a new ADA ramp, a new driveway apron for his property, replacing 22 linear feet of curb and gutter and 34 feet of sidewalk that is uplifted by a tree on his property, which is at the corner of Sierra Vista Avenue and Shorb Street. If the project cuts into the street, Tang would have to replace the asphalt as well.

Tang said in a letter attached to the city staff report that the requirements are financially onerous, estimating that the additional work would cost around $40,000, while the garage conversion would cost an estimated $15,000.

He said that the financial realities of these requirements violates the spirit of California’s accessory dwelling unit ADU law, which was passed to create more affordable housing and rental options.

He also said that the DPW’s requirements violate the state of California’s ADU laws, which prohibit cities from requiring overly burdensome development standards . These laws specifically mention development standards that cities can require within reason, like parking, height of the structure, setback from the street, lot coverage, architectural review, maximum size of a unit, and protecting any property listed in the California Register of Historic Places.

The city staff report says that based on Alhambra’s municipal code, Public Works is allowed to require homeowners to make improvements to the public right-of-way if a new project increases the density of the property in question or if it increases traffic in the street next to it. Public Works imposes these requirements on a case-by-case basis and determined that Tang’s ADU would increase density in his neighborhood, which is in a single-family residential zone.

In late 2016, California passed three laws making it easier for residents to build ADUs on their property, or to convert existing garages into ADUs, in an effort to address severe housing shortages throughout the state. The laws allows ADUs in single-family and multi-family residential zones, prohibit cities from banning the construction of ADUs and reduce parking requirements and the imposition of additional utility fees. The laws also require cities to approve ADU applications that conform with stated parking requirements, size and setback requirements without a hearing. Cities can pass their own ADU ordinances, provided that their requirements fall within parameters set by the state.

Alhambra passed its own ordinance in late 2017, requiring projects for new ADU structures to have a minimum lot size of 6,500 square feet and specified structure size, parking and other development requirements for any ADUs built in Alhambra. Last summer, the Alhambra City Council passed another ordinance clarifying that in addition to the minimum 6,500 square feet, a lot must conform to minimum width and depth requirements to permit an ADU.

According to state law, cities cannot impose minimum lot sizes on ADUs that are garage conversions. Tang’s ADU falls within this category.

The City Council is being asked to decide whether to waive these public property development standards and to direct staff on how to impose Public Works requirements for ADUs going forward. Alhambra’s ordinance only requires the Director of Community Development to approve ADU applications.

The City Council will also hear an appeal on a Planning Commission decision to deny a permit to Eric Tsang, who wants to build a new three-story, four-unit apartment complex on a land area of approximately 8,198 square feet on 510 N. 3rd St., located in a high-density multi-family residential zone.

According to a staff report, three Alhambra residents testified at a public hearing on Jan. 7 that they were concerned that the project would cause damage to their home foundations, would not allow for enough green open space and was out of character with the surrounding neighborhood. They were also concerned that the amount of green open space on the lot would not be adequate for the size of the property once the project was built and that the project would make street parking more difficult.

One neighboring resident, Yukwoon Lo, said that the building would block sunlight into her home, intrude upon her privacy and could damage her home’s foundation.

Planning Commissioners were especially concerned about the proposed complex being taller than the surrounding single and multi-family complexes in the neighborhood. They voted 4 to 3 to deny the project permit.

Tsang said that the Planning Commission denied his application based on some commissioners wanting to require a shadow study for the project and to limit the hours of construction workers on the project. Neither of those points are required or enforceable by Alhambra’s municipal code, he said.

The project description also stated that the surrounding neighborhood does not have a prevailing architectural style, that there is already a three-story apartment structure on the same block and that the project conforms to development requirements for R3 high-density multi-family residential zone.

During City Council appeals, the City presents the project for 15 minutes, the appellant speaks for 15 minutes, and there is an opportunity for public testimony with speakers receiving five minutes each. The appellant is allowed a five minutes rebuttal before the City Council ask questions, deliberates and votes on the appeal.

In January, the City Council denied an appeal against a permit granted by the Planning Commission for the Monterey Bay Square mixed-used development, located at 100 S. Monterey St. and 201 E. Bay State St., in the city’s central business district. During that hearing, City Council member Katherine Lee expressed concern about the height of that development, which includes a five-story commercial building and a six-story garage, and noted that the possible lack of uniformity in Alhambra’s skyline was not aesthetically pleasing.

The City Council will also announce any new members that they’re appointing to the city’s various boards and commissions. These commissions govern planning, transportation, arts and culture and other city operations. All current commissioner terms expire on March 25. New terms will run from March 25, 2019 to March 23, 2020. Commissioners can serve for a maximum of eight consecutive one-year terms.

Many new members of the Planning Commission were appointed earlier this year to finish out the current term, which ends on Monday. All are being reappointed, according to a city staff report.

City Councilmember Katherine Lee said that she appointed Grassroots Alhambra member Michael Lawrence as a new member of the Arts and Cultural Events Committee because of his background in art and the commitment he demonstrated to serving on a commission in Alhambra. She appointed Alhambra High School student Winston Yan to the Youth Commission, after meeting him at the Kids and Candidates Community Engagement Forum last fall, and was impressed with his thoughts on school safety and his commitment to civic engagement.

The other City Council members could not yet be reached for comment on their new board and commission appointees.

The City Council meeting also includes a ceremony declaring April 7-13 National Library Week. Mayor Adele Andrade-Stadler will present a proclamation to Alhambra Civic Center Library Director Carmen Hernandez. The consent agenda includes a request for proposal for a company to build the city’s 2020 Tournament of Roses float. Like last year, the city is seeking float design ideas through a contest at Alhambra’s elementary schools. The consent agenda also includes a request for proposal for a contract to operate the Alhambra Community Transit and Senior Ride bus lines. The new contract would start July 1, 2019 for a five-year term, with a five-year option to extend. The contracted operator maintains the bus and vehicle fleet and operates the schedule for both ACT and Senior Ride. The current operator’s contract ends June 30.

Read the City Council agenda here.

Updated at 3:05 p.m. to clarify development standards for new ADUs and garage conversions.

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1 thought on “Alhambra City Council takes up discussion on Accessory Dwelling Units”

  1. Amazing! City is actually going to bid out the Rose Parade float instead of just handing the money over to the Chamber to outsource the float building with no oversight. This is a first! Should have been doing this all along. Now let’s audit the Chamber to see how they have been using city funds.

    Looks like the city’s ADU ordinance, which was passed under the previous city council, violates state law. I find it ironic that the city will dole out zoning variances and general plan amendments to accommodate developers but then they make it as difficult as possible for homeowners to add a dwelling unit to their property. Something is very wrong with this.