They're as common as fire hydrants in some parts of town: small residential buildings typically built in backyards as a kind of annex to the main house. Some call them mother-in-law quarters.

To local homebuilders and state lawmakers, these "accessory dwelling units," or ADUs, present an opportunity to address California's housing shortage. But others see them as a menace threatening the character and livability of their single-family-home neighborhoods.

The sharp divergence between those views has come into focus lately as a proposal to promote construction of the units makes its way through Bakersfield city government.

The matter is scheduled to go before the City Council for a final vote Wednesday following the city Planning Commission's 5-0 vote Thursday to approve a proposal encouraging development of ADUs through amendments to a city ordinance adopted in 1994.

At the heart of the debate is the ever-controversial topic of housing density. Big-city residents might not mind living in an area where housing is built to maximize the number of people residing in a given block, but homeowners who bought into a quiet, low-density neighborhood generally like their space — and will fight to defend it.

SPECIFIC CHANGES

The proposal approved by the Planning Commission would significantly loosen city rules regarding development of ADUs.

Besides changing their name from "second dwelling units" to accessory dwelling units, the plan would allow construction of such buildings on any residential lot, not just those with single-family homes on them, as long as the smaller unit has a separate entrance and independent living facilities.

The proposal would also waive a requirement that each ADU have a dedicated parking space in cases where the unit is a converted garage or is located within half a mile of public transit.

It would also allow accessory dwellings to be larger than previously permitted — up to 50 percent of the larger building's floor area, up from the current limit of 30 percent — though state law still limits their size to 1,240 square feet. And no longer would the main building have to be occupied by the property's owner.

In addition, the proposal would waive traffic impact fees that have been charged ADU developers, and instead would impose sewer connection fees based on the number of plumbing fixtures planned for the unit.

The proposal is generally in line with three different bills pending before the state Legislature. Among other provisions, those proposals are aimed at speeding approval of ADUs, waiving impact fees on such units totaling less than 750 square feet and doing away with impact fees for secondary dwellings located near public transit.

‘UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES’

A city staff report outlined several potential "unintended consequences" if the changes are adopted. These include greater traffic and fewer available parking spaces near new ADUs, a shift in neighborhood character from single-family to "more of a multi-family feel," more people living or working at state-licensed residential care facilities in Bakersfield, and an added burden on a city sewer system infrastructure not built to handle so many new dwelling units.

Such consequences as possible but not necessarily likely, said Ward 4 City Councilman Bob Smith, who a year ago referred the matter of overhauling Bakersfield's ADU regulations to the council's Planning and Development Committee.

To him, ADUs make a lot of sense at a time when demand for housing is outpacing supply.

"The state believes, and I believe also, that there’s a number of reasons that are advantageous for the accessory dwelling units," he said. "It helps affordable housing. It can help with the housing crisis.”

Another supporter of changing Bakersfield's ADU rules is Dave Dmohowski, executive officer with the Home Builders Association of Kern County.

MARKET DEMAND

Noting that the units are common in some of Bakersfield's oldest neighborhoods, and that even former Mayor Mary K. Shell had one, Dmohowski said the proposal now under consideration would basically make it more economically feasible to expand housing opportunities in the city.

He said many local homebuilders are very supportive of the idea for that reason.

"The market is very, very receptive to having the flexibility of an extra room, that kind of a self-sufficient unit within a unit, for mothers-in-law, older parents, unemployed millennials or whatever," he said.

Some local homeowners see it very differently.

Stockdale Estates resident Joseph Kandle said he worries the proposal will be taken to an extreme in which everyone converts garages to house residents. He doesn't mind making room for mothers-in-law, he said, but he doesn't want to see his neighborhood become a rental community.

"It can allow, let’s say, the people with less income to come into the community," he said.

CREATING A QUAGMIRE

Kenneth Hersh, who also lives in Stockdale Estates and is opposed to the city proposal, said making changes to accommodate ADU developers could invite the kind of problems found in coastal neighborhoods, such as insufficient parking and single-family homes being converted into "mini-apartments."

"They're going to create a quagmire," he said. "They’re going to change the demographics in these once-sacred, you know, single-family dwelling residences."

What's more, Bakersfield doesn't face the same kind of confined development space that coastal cities do. He said there's plenty of room in southwest Bakersfield for development of new housing, he said.

"We have a lot of acreage here," he said.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf. Sign up at Bakersfield.com for free newsletters about local business.

(17) comments

georgieboy11

Some people say you would be able to rent out this secondary dwelling thereby getting help with your house payment. Nobody has discussed the fact that if you build another dwelling on your property, won't your property be reassessed? Your property taxes could double!

macsriggs

Instead of building these ADU's in existing neighborhoods developers should create new communities with smaller 1 or 2 bedroom homes on small lots that are priced under $100,000 with low down financing options. These homes should be built with solar power and small yards and single car garages with built in storage shelves. Homes like these would be great for singles or childless couples young and old. This would satisfy the concerns of current single family home owners.

barbinbak

The Pros far outweigh the Cons on this one.

justred

when my parents bought their first house in Bakersfield, it had a separate mother-in-law house in the back. it had one large room and a separate bathroom. That was about 40 years ago. Now I heard the owners now just use it for extra storage. Thinking back, it was a great idea to have that extra room for company, mother/dad, older child ,whatever.

Bayesian

For what its worth, California's ADU provisions require that the property owner live in one of the dwellings on the property. Intent there was to ensure the property owner was aware of what was occurring on the property if the ADU was rented. To get a dwelling building permit you need to prove a viable means of access, water supply and sewage disposal. If the water or sewer provider won't provide a "will serve" letter for the ADU, the permit to build it shouldn't be issued.

PW

Next Gen or AUD's are an excellent solution to the ever rising cost of housing and the difficult mortgage qualification standards today:

1. Young people cannot afford to buy housing and/or save the down payment in today's difficult rules/regs process for loan qualification;

2. Elderly parents, like myself, would be able to live with their children, and together share the mortgage payment; and

3. They allow for privacy and independence when family come to visit.

Traff6will continue to increase no matter what as the city of Bakersfield and the Metro area continue to grow.

These same people that protested the CSUB student housing on Gosford + Stockdale didn't win as the building is now the Hyatt Place. A mini hotel stop. Traffic congestion is sure to exist with this type of use.

Go ahead Bob Smith ... we applaud your business engenuity!

PW

Mother-in-law quarters or Next Gen housing is an excellent answer for aging parents to be able to be under the same roof as their children to assist with healthcare. Since I had to RETIRE forced by disability, my daughter and I have constantly searched for Next Gen housing. It allows for more affordable living for families, allows aging parents to remain at home where they have more positive chances to recover and/or live longer, gives a sense of privacy when needed, and traffic is going to be a problem no matter what as the city and metro area of Bakersfield continues to grow.

Really

For areas like La Cresta where there are already slum lords from out of the area buying houses and killing property values by letting the yards go un-maintained and over filling houses with renters who could care less about creating blight through indifference, it is a really, really bad idea. Why needlessly allow the destruction of otherwise thriving neighborhoods by cramming in extra dwelling units?

Steve57

This is just another high density housing scheme. If they want this many people in a compact space they should look at the Eastmark development in Mesa, Arizona .

A master planned HOA community of high density single family homes, including parks, schools, community center ,pools. We do not need people building dwellings in their backyards to bring more vehicles onto the streets of existing neighborhoods or clogging up the sewer systems not designed for the increased amount of people.

Also where is the water supply coming from for this? No mention of that.

Ledzepplin4800

Exceptional idea , we need adorable housing for many reason in life , this is a step in the right direction ,Anything to add housing is a great added idea in my books

Bayesian

The proposed changes in ADU provisions are probably intended to bring the City's zoning ordinance into compliance with State law. Cities and counties were mandated to bring their zoning ordinances into consistency with State law a few years back. Kern County made those changes in 2017. Whether the city 'promotes" ADUs, or not, would seem to be the only issue. ADUs can be built in all residential zones.

DocM

We have an existing art studio in our back yard that we are going to remodel in the event our older parents need to be housed. It is small, less than 400 square feet, and would give a little independence. Basically a bedroom and bath. I am in support of these changes.

BakoBorn

Common sense good idea. I encourage a YES vote.

RedRover

Let me get this straight, the City Planning Commission and Council are voting to approve “unintended consequences!” Quite the opposite, a vote for ADU’s that contribute to any of the consequences listed in the article is intentional when such consequences are known and discussed in advance.

Richard P

Is this the same city council member that doles out bicycles to the homeless and street gangs so they can continue to commit crimes and use them as getaway vehicles?

GetReal2

Especially with college debt, more kids are returning home (or staying) with parents. Building a small out-building not only aides the housing crisis, it will help keep modern families sane. Best to switch terminology from mother in-law quarters, to ‘adult kid saving up to launch’ quarters, or ‘small rental quarters because we could sure use a bit of extra income and have the space/ land.

Moardeeb

I think they are a good idea. All of the reasons against them? Pffft!

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