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Alhambra City Council waives certain Public Works conditions for ADUs

Photo by David Muñoz.


Alhambra , CA United States

The Alhambra City Council voted unanimously on Monday to waive public property modifications that the city’s Department of Public Works imposed on a resident’s application to build an accessory dwelling unit on his lot, after the city found that such requirements were in violation of state law.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development informed Alhambra city staff on Monday afternoon that applicant Danny Tang should not be required to make the repairs, said City Attorney Joseph Montes, because the conditions were beyond the scope of the development standards that the state allows cities to impose on ADUs within their jurisdiction.

The City Council voted not only to waive these requirements for Tang, who also serves on Alhambra’s Planning Commission, but for other residents who apply to build an ADU, or secondary housing units on properties that contain a primary single-family residence. Council also directed staff to draft an ordinance for a later meeting clarifying that Public Works conditions like these are not applicable to ADU applications in Alhambra.

Tang expressed happiness that the requirements had been waived and thanked Montes for contacting the state agency. He also voiced frustration over his dealings with city staff in this process, and the length of time it took to get his application approved.

“Even with my expertise, I still found it very hard to get through this whole process, and I think that’s something the City Council can trim and make it an easier process for other owners,” he said, citing his background as an engineer who worked for the Los Angeles City Department of Building and Safety.

City Manager Jessica Binnquist said that the delay occurred because Alhambra is still studying how to apply California’s ADU laws locally. “This is a really new law for the state, with a lot of ambiguity that we’ve been researching as well,” she said. “We’re thankful that got a call this afternoon [from HCD].”

Tang had challenged 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 included a new ADA ramp and driveway apron, replacing 22 linear feet of curb and gutter and 34 feet of sidewalk uplifted by a tree on his property, which is at the corner of Sierra Vista Avenue and Shorb Street. If the project cut into the street, Tang would have had to replace the asphalt as well.

He said that Public Works’ 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.

Tang also said that the requirements are financially onerous, and that they violate the spirit of California’s accessory dwelling unit ADU law, which was passed to create more affordable housing and rental options. He estimated that the additional work would cost around $40,000, while the garage conversion would cost an estimated $15,000.

After these laws passed at the end of 2016, Alhambra passed its own ordinance a year later imposing many of these development standards on local ADUs. The city has since received 83 applications for ADUs since the beginning of 2017, and have approved 70 through a simpler planning process, said Director of Community Development Marc Castagnola. Twenty-nine applications have then had building permits issued, out of the 70 approved.

A city staff report said 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. Tang’s ADU would increase density in his neighborhood, the report also said, which is in a single-family residential zone. To comply with the state ruling, Alhambra is expected to pass an ordinance clarifying that this rule can’t apply to ADUs.

Tang said he contacted California’s Office and Housing and Community Development to confirm that these conditions could not apply to his ADU, which prompted the city to confirm this decision with the department as well.

The City Council also unanimously continued an appeal filed by Eric Tsang to their April 8 meeting. Tsang is challenging the Planning Commission’s denial of a permit for him 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.

The Planning Commission raised concerns during their Jan. 7 hearing that the proposed structure was too tall, that it would be the only three-story building on the block and that the architecture was too modern.

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.

As part of their continuance, the City Council asked Tsang to produce this shadow study to see if the new building would block sunlight from surrounding properties at different times of day, as well as full-size renderings that would show the new development in context with the rest of the neighborhood and addressing privacy issues for properties next to it.

Tsang said that he was willing to produce a shadow study, in order to get the project approved.

Updated at 7:08 p.m. to reflect more accurate numbers about how many ADU applications Alhambra has received and approved.

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