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Junior accessory housing in Napa

Housing units smaller than 500 square feet, such as this dwelling on the Silverado Trail near downtown Napa, will be exempted from some development fees under an ordinance approved by the City Council. The elimination of about $2,700 in fees charged to fund affordable housing is meant to spur the creation of smaller units and make them more attainable for lower-income Napans.

The fees Napa charges developers to foster affordable housing will no longer be charged to those creating the city’s smallest dwellings – the kind most likely to be affordable.

Those applying to build accessory dwelling units (ADU) of less than 500 square feet – a type of housing often created in outbuildings or even existing bedrooms – will be exempt from the city’s housing impact fee, saving about $2,700 per application, under an ordinance the City Council unanimously approved last week. The move will take effect 30 days after a second approval vote by the council.

“It didn’t make a lot of sense for us to ask for a small, affordable ADU – and then go and charge an affordable impact fee on that,” Scott Sedgley said of the paradox that has dissuaded some would-be builders, even as applications to build junior-size housing have increased in the past year and a half.

A variety of fees charged by the city, Napa Sanitation District and the Napa Valley Unified School District currently total nearly $20,000, according to city Housing Manager Lark Ferrell. To make such construction more cost-effective, Napa Sanitation and the school district already have passed their own fee breaks for units of less than 500 square feet, slicing about $12,000 from the cost of junior units – nearly 60 percent of the total.

While chronically low vacancy rates routinely boost Napa apartment rents past $2,000 a month, such rents are harder to command for the smallest dwellings, making them a prime candidate for fee cuts, Ferrell said in a pre-meeting memorandum to the council.

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The housing fee is one of three the city charges on all accessory housing, totaling about $7,000 regardless of floor area. Dropping or reducing the other two surcharges – one for public parks and the other for street improvements – will require separate council votes in the future.

Napa’s fee reduction is the latest step taken by the city and state to remove barriers for those hoping to craft dwellings from bedrooms, annexes, garages or outbuildings, as one solution to widespread housing shortages in California.

A May 2016 city ordinance loosened rules governing second units’ property-line setbacks and allowed such dwellings to merely “complement” the main house, rather than match its design precisely. Later in the year, the passage of Senate Bill 1069 blocked water and sewer companies from charging hookup fees on accessory units within an existing house or a freestanding structure on the same lot, while also repealing parking restrictions on companion homes carved out of an existing home or close to public transportation.

From seven applications to build accessory housing units in 2015, that number has grown to 18 in 2016 and 31 in 2017. Napa has received 28 such requests so far this year, city senior planner Michael Walker said Monday.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.