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Junior accessory housing in Napa

The Napa City Council has approved a streamlined application path for homeowners seeking to build accessory housing on their properties. Most applicants will be cleared to begin work with only one city permit, rather than the separate administrative and building permits currently required.

Napa has lowered another roadblock for those looking to turn one home into two.

An ordinance approved Tuesday by the City Council will let local homeowners more easily convert a spare bedroom, garage or outbuilding into a secondary dwelling, commonly called a “granny” unit. In most cases, only one permit will be needed to start work on an accessory dwelling unit, rather than the separate approvals for plans and construction Napa currently requires.

The streamlined permit path is Napa’s latest step to encourage residents to build such spin-off residences, a practice considered one of the easier and cheaper ways to cope with several years of high rents and miniscule vacancies. City applications to build secondary housing have risen from seven in 2015 to 44 last year, during a period when city and state laws have sought to remove barriers to their construction.

The ordinance, which the Napa Planning Commission supported last month, will simplify a process in which applications to create accessory housing are evaluated twice – once for an administrative permit and again for a building permit, with many city staff members reviewing the same plans each time.

Dual permits will continue to be required for housing additions that are more than 15 feet tall, within 3 feet of a property line, or on the grounds of a home on the city’s historic resource registry.

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In addition, the size of add-on dwellings will no longer be limited by a 50 percent cap on the increase of a property’s floor space. A city maximum of 1,200 square feet for a junior unit will stay in place.

City planning officials have said that cutting red tape is especially important to encourage junior units and other small-footprint housing, due to fixed permit costs and state energy efficiency rules that drive up the cost per square foot for smaller dwellings.

A state Senate bill passed in 2016 required cities to approve accessory units at homes close to public transportation, and blocked water and sewer agencies from charging separate hookup fees on secondary units within an existing house or on the same lot as one.

Earlier that year, Napa loosened city rules on second units’ setbacks from property lines, and allowed their design to “complement” the main house rather than follow its design exactly. The city also has exempted accessory dwellings smaller than 500 square feet from paying an impact fee that feeds Napa’s affordable housing fund, and the Napa sanitation and school districts also waive fees for such units.

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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.