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This accessory dwelling unit in Encinitas makes up the top floor of an existing single-family home. Photo by Laura Place
This accessory dwelling unit in Encinitas makes up the top floor of an existing single-family home. Photo by Laura Place
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Del Mar, Solana Beach update affordable ADU incentives

REGION — The cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach recently adopted new incentives to encourage the construction of affordable accessory dwelling units to help meet state housing goals.

Both cities are relying heavily on accessory dwelling units, commonly known as ADUs, to help meet their Regional Housing Needs Allocation obligations within their respective housing plans.

Del Mar

State housing officials have mandated Del Mar to adopt new affordable ADU incentives by the end of 2023 to maintain the city’s Housing Element certification.

Del Mar is required to provide 15 deed-restricted, affordable ADUs by 2029. So far, the city has only established one affordable ADU under its existing ADU Incentive Pilot Program, which currently grants a 500-square-foot floor area ratio bonus to those who deed-restrict their units for affordable housing. 

Principal Planner Amanda Lee said the program has been extended twice since 2018, but that existing incentives don’t seem to be drawing people in.

“We’re using a lot of resources to extend the current program, and we only have one unit right now, and it’s not even occupied,” Lee said. 

On Dec. 4, the City Council updated the program so that it will also grant a bonus Junior ADU — or JrADU, a smaller unit limited to 500 square feet — within the walls of the primary dwelling on single-family and duplex lots.

On denser, multi-unit sites, the program would allow one JrADU for every 30-year deed-restricted unit and 1.5 JrADUs for every 55-year deed restriction, with a maximum of 15 bonus units per site. 

Through this new incentive, the city is switching tacks by focusing on getting affordable ADUs within older multi-unit buildings, many of which are out of compliance with city development standards. There are approximately 25 such sites throughout the city. 

“We really want to focus this program on facilitating small, infill development on multi-unit lots with existing apartments and condos,” Lee said. “That’s what we’re looking for. Can we just get a couple [of ADUs] on each of these lots to cobble together 15?” 

The bonus JrADU would be in addition to the other ADUs owners are already permitted to have on their properties under Senate Bill 9. In a single-family zone, this means the maximum development scenario would be four dwelling units on a property, according to Lee.

Councilmember Dwight Worden praised the proposed program. 

“The ability to capture a lot of deed-restricted affordable units inside the shell of existing buildings, where if you lived in the neighborhood, you wouldn’t even notice it… Compared to building new structures, this is pretty elegant,” Worden said. “I like it, and I hope it’s going to work.”

Councilmember Terry Gaasterland, who cast the sole “no” vote against the program, said she worried it would allow older apartment buildings in the city to become packed with affordable housing without having to complete exterior improvements. 

A prefabricated accessory dwelling unit is installed on Sept. 19 in a Vista backyard. Solana Beach is looking to change regulations to better facilitate the construction of ADUs. Photo by Laura Place
A prefabricated accessory dwelling unit was installed on Sept. 19 in a Vista backyard. Del Mar and Solana Beach are looking to create more incentives to increase ADU construction. Photo by Laura Place

“I’m very worried that what we’re doing with this one is that we’re going to freeze in place for 55 years existing 1969 structures that are now deeded affordable, and we’re effectively creating a ghetto in our own city,” Gaasterland said. 

City Manager Ashley Jones reminded council members that the city is not required to approve permits for these projects under the incentive program and that it is proposed as a way to help the city reach affordable housing goals. 

The council also unanimously adopted a two-year amnesty program waiving fees for unpermitted ADUs that agree to be deed-restricted affordable rentals. 

Under the amnesty program, owners of unpermitted ADUs who agree to deed restrict the unit for 30 years can have up to 100% of code enforcement fines and permit fees waived, depending on the unit’s income level restrictions. 

Those who agree to restrict their unit to a low-income renter will also be granted perks under the ADU Incentive Program, including the right to a bonus JrADU and a 500-square-foot floor area ratio bonus. 

Residents have until December 2025 to take advantage of the amnesty incentive, and those who do will have five years to bring their ADU into compliance with local development standards.

The City Council also agreed to require ADUs to be used only as residential dwelling spaces after residents and leaders raised concerns about many being used for other purposes like yoga studios or office space.

Since 2018, the city has received 149 ADU applications and issued 89 building permits, with 53 still in process. The majority of approved units will count toward the city’s current Housing Element Cycle. 

Solana Beach

Solana Beach leaders said the city is on track to exceed its general ADU production goals outlined in its Housing Element by 50%. Over the past four years, the city has received 102 applications, with 19 permits issued, 31 units constructed, and 36 permits currently under review. 

However, city leaders acknowledged they also have had little luck getting any residents to deed-restrict their units for low-income households. 

To attract more people, the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance on Nov. 29, setting a 25-year deed restriction for affordable ADUs rather than the suggested 55- or 95-year time periods. 

Residents who agree to implement this deed restriction will be eligible for various incentives, including waived city fees and reduced parking and development standards. Council members set the 25-year timeline after raising concerns that longer deed restrictions would dissuade residents from participating. 

“I still think it’s a little bit of wishful thinking, but it’s a difference from the 55 [years],” Councilmember Kristi Becker said. 

New regulations also allow ADUs in previously restricted environmentally sensitive areas, including bluff top sites like coastal and inland bluffs and canyon rim properties, as well as fire hazard areas and the hillside overlay zone, if they meet certain conditions. 

When the council first discussed this regulation back in July, architects and residents interested in building ADUs said the prohibition in these zones was unreasonably preventing development.

By the end of next year, Solana Beach leaders are also aiming to adopt a permit-ready ADU program offering pre-approved unit designs to residents, similar to what has been adopted in Encinitas.

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