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Accessory Dwelling Units

With the Santa Cruz County community facing a critical housing shortage and high housing costs, the County is interested in expanding access to affordable housing for residents. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), sometimes called Granny Units or second units, are small “second” housing units that can be built on residential lots that already have a single-family home. ADUs have the potential to help ease the housing shortage, and to provide places to rent that are more affordable than a standard single-family home. ADUs may be quite small, or up to 1200 square feet depending on the size of the property and where it is located. They may be a separate house, over a garage, or attached to the main house. They may be created by converting all or part of an existing structure, or by building a new living space. Our community needs more types of housing to suit the needs of different households, and ADUs are part of the solution.

Subject to land use regulations in place to ensure any new structures fit in with existing neighborhoods, the County wants to encourage property owners to consider building ADUs. To this end, the County is working on a comprehensive review of the regulations, design standards, and financing tools that might help create a more conducive environment for ADU development in appropriate locations throughout the County. Community workshops will take place in Mid-April to discuss design and development standards for ADUs.

The preliminary recommendations from this study will be presented to the County Board of Supervisors in June. Watch this page for future updates.

Join us for a Community Open House to learn about recent changes to the regulations governing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in the unincorporated County, hear the results of a recent public survey regarding ADUs, and learn about the County’s efforts to simplify and support applicants as they move through the process of design and financing ADUs.

The meeting will also provide an opportunity for discussion about the use of ADUs as a source of long-term rental housing in both the urban and the rural parts of the County, and an opportunity for participants to ask questions of staff and provide focused feedback regarding ADUs.

April 26, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Simpkins Family Swin Center Community Room, 979 17th Ave., Live Oak.

Note: This planning process is focused on finding ways to increase the number of legal ADUs that are built in the County. If you have general comments about ADUs in Santa Cruz County, we want to hear those thoughts as well. Please email comments on any aspect of this topic to County Planning Staff:

Updated ADU regulations:

There have been several changes recently in the regulations about Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), sometimes called Granny Units or second units, as a result of recent changes to the California law governing this type of housing. The new state standards remove some of the barriers to building ADUs by revising parking requirements, deleting the requirement for fire sprinklers in some cases, and recognizing conversions of existing structures into ADUs. When they become final, the new regulations will allow:

  1. Reduced side and rear yard setbacks of 5’ for ADUs that are built on the second story above a garage.
  2. Processing of applications as ministerial building permits, which must be approved or denied within a 120 day timeline.
  3. Elimination of parking requirements under certain circumstances.
  4. ADUs to be exempt from the requirement for fire sprinklers if sprinklers are not present in the primary dwelling.
  5. ADUs on any lot where a single family home could be built, regardless of parcel size.
  6. Development of ADUs on lots under 1 acre in the rural area that already have a legal single family home, provided that any on-site septic system receives "approval by the local health officer", based on technical standards. (Water quality will continue to be protected because any new or expanded septic system must meet County performance standards and be approved by Environmental Health Services. The amendments are worded to ensure that property that is not currently developable remains undevelopable.)
  7. ADUs on the second story of an existing home or above a garage without the need for a public hearing.

If you have general comments about ADUs as a form of housing in Santa Cruz County, we want to hear your thoughts. Please email comments on any aspect of this topic to County Planning Staff:

Looking for more information about the current ADU regulations? Check out our brochures and then contact the zoning counter to discuss the options for your property.