As San Mateo updates its ADU ordinance to meet state requirements and help the housing stock, the council is still trying to reach a consensus on overall height, daylight planes and balconies.

“We are trying to strike a delicate balance. We know ADUs are a very important piece of the puzzle to create housing. We also want to enable homeowners to maximize their property,” Mayor Eric Rodriguez said. “But on the other hand, we are trying to balance there are a lot of people who might not want an ADU overlooking their backyard.”

The City Council’s Sept. 7 ADU ordinance study session looked at the currently proposed ADU ordinance and offered feedback before ordinance introduction this fall. Topics discussed included if public engagement and survey results were helpful, detached ADU building height, daylight plane requirements, objective design criteria and balconies.

ADUs are detached units sometimes called second units or granny units. The trending housing unit model can accommodate older family members or young adults fresh out of school, adding additional income or maximizing unused space. ADUs can also be used to increase housing in San Mateo and address regional requirements.

The council in March approved an interim draft ordinance to align city standards with recently loosened state ADU regulations to address housing needs. However, in April, the city did not adopt it because the height limit might be too restrictive, and it sought additional community input. The Planning Commission in August recommended approval to the City Council. The city is changing the existing local ordinance because it does not comply with all the new state regulations.

There was no complete consensus on maximum building height for detached ADUs, with small, medium and large options considered and suggested. Disagreement on a daylight plane restriction and balcony options also occurred. Daylight planes ensure air and light is provided between neighboring structures to prevent constant shadow in the surrounding areas.

Vice Mayor Rick Bonilla wanted to see ADUs have more of the same privileges in development as regular homes around daylight planes, balconies and other requirements. He wanted less red tape and to make it open and fair for ADU applicants. He worried creating different conditions for ADUs could lead to second- or third-class units for people.

“Where they don’t have the same ability to enjoy the use of their home because they are being so restricted by these requirements, which are causing them to live in places where they can’t see through the windows, they can’t have a balcony, enjoy some peace and quiet on their second floor,” he said.

Councilmember Amourence Lee was happy with the strength of the ordinance and supported passing it, although she favored allowing balconies and removing a daylight plane restriction.

“This is a chance for us to really put our faith in our neighbors to make investments into their own property, in their own futures, in their own wealth creation to create housing that is going to increase their own property value,” Lee said.

Rodriguez was against relaxing the daylight plane, calling it a nonstarter. He believed it was a safeguard against larger height requirements.

“That to me is a key thing that makes up for the fact that we are talking about some garages that are right up against the property line,” Rodriguez said.

Councilmember Joe Goethals noted the ADU changes can be substantial and struggled with balancing the desires of an ADU builder and their neighbors.

“This is the ultimate Yimbyism to say, I’m willing to create housing right in my own backyard, and I recognize that their backyard might be right next to somebody’s backyard who might not want it right there,” Goethals said.

Councilmember Diane Papan favored keeping a daylight plane requirement and a smaller ADU size.

“We have a housing shortage, and that’s indisputable, and ADUs are a way that single-family property owners can provide housing and contribute and do their part perhaps to increasing housing,” Papan said.

Community Development Deputy Director Zachary Dahl said by email there would likely be a continuing discussion on some aspects of the ordinance, with further opportunity for public comment. Rodriguez said finding a solution will come down to how the council strikes a balance, and he believes it is getting closer to nailing down decisions.

“I think that every councilmember believes ADUs are very important. It’s about coming up with the best solution. We had some constructive disagreement on how to get there,” Rodriguez said.

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