Long Beach is working to update its rules for home additions and building accessory dwelling units later this year to help homeowners navigate recent changes to state law.

The city projects that ADUs will be a part of an urgent push to create more housing. Long Beach was tasked with creating space for over 26,500 new residential units by 2029 and city planners say ADUs and other home additions could play a role. Since 2020, Long Beach has received more than 2,600 ADU applications.

That’s why the city is working to simplify the process and pass a new local law that will incentivize homeowners to apply.

Changes on the horizon could lift building restrictions on certain lots within historic districts and the coastal zone. The city is also considering incentives for homeowners who provide off-street parking or for those who agree to deed restrictions that would keep new units affordable.

The updates would apply to ADUs and other projects allowed under Senate Bill 9, a law passed in 2021 that allows property owners to split their lots and build up to four units on sites previously zoned for single-family homes.

Long Beach Planning Commissioners held a study session Thursday to discuss potential changes to the ordinance, which could be adopted into the city’s municipal code as soon as this summer.

What’s currently allowed

The construction of ADUs are already allowed in areas that are zoned for residential uses in the city and it generally consists of homeowners converting garages into living quarters or building a new attached or detached structure on their property.

Last year, the city released a handful of templates for pre-approved designs of ADUs that property owners can buy to save time in the city’s approval process. The city’s current law allows for ADUs of up to 800-square-feet and state law allows for a “Jr. ADU,” which can share bathroom facilities with the primary home, to also be built on a property.

City data shows that thousands of ADU applications have been received since 2017, when the City Council adopted the current ordinance.

However, there are several barriers that have hindered the feasibility of SB-9 projects. For example, the law requires a lot to be split in some cases and owners are required to have used the property as a primary residence for at least three years before the lot can be split. There are also limits on how much of an existing structure can be demolished for new construction.

A SB-9 project would allow up to four units on a parcel of land previously zoned for a single-family home — but the law does not allow for these projects in several parts of the city including historic districts, 100-year flood zones and parcels near an earthquake fault line.

What could change? 

While nothing is final, the process of updating the city’s laws is partially to align them with evolving state law but also to create design standards and more predictability and understanding for people who might want to take these projects on in the future.

New state laws allow for cities to allow ADUs to be sold separately and could speed up the approval process by requiring cities to have pre-approved plans and authorize applications within 30 days. Long Beach is looking at writing a concise local law that makes state rules more understandable and makes it easier for new units to be built.

That could include expanding the allowable areas where SB-9 projects could be built. ADUs are allowed in historic districts but SB-9 projects are currently only allowed in neighborhoods with a “R-1” zoning designation, which is intended for single-family use.

Christopher Koontz, director of the city’s Community Development department, told the Planning Commission last week that city staff believe “R-2” (two-family residential) lots could also be included in the update.

“We have a ton of properties that are zoned R-2 and we at the staff table think it should apply there too, but maybe we got that wrong,” Koontz said Thursday.

Commissioners also raised the possibility of including historic districts and areas in the coastal zone in addition to R-2 lots.

“One of the really great things about these areas, they had backyard houses when they were developed,” Commissioner Michael Clemson said of historic districts. “Opening them up for more of these types of units, it’s like getting these neighborhoods back to what they first looked like.”

Long Beach could also reduce parking requirements for units near public transit and offer incentives to homeowners whose projects include off-street parking, an issue that has been raised in parking-impacted neighborhoods where ADUs are being built.

The city will also discuss design standards: Whether a unit should be able to face an alley, if the new construction should match the style of the existing house and requirements for the inclusion of in-unit laundry as well as space for a deck or patio.

Before a new ordinance is sent to the Planning Commission and the City Council for final approval later this year, the Community Development Department expects to hold at least one more open house where the public can review the draft ordinances before either body votes on them.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.