File #: 2015-2101   
Type: Regular Agenda Item
Body: Planning Board
On agenda: 9/28/2015
Title: Public Hearing to Consider Draft Zoning Ordinance Amendments to 1) adopt a Universal Design Ordinance, 2) amend the Second Unit Ordinance and Accessory Building regulations, and 3) amend the Multifamily Residential Combining Zone District Regulations.
Attachments: 1. Exhibit 1 - Draft Universal Design Ordinance, 2. Exhibit 2 - Draft Second Unit Ordinance Amendments, 3. Exhibit 3 - Draft Accessory Building Regulations Amendments, 4. Correspondence, 5. Correspondence



Public Hearing to Consider Draft Zoning Ordinance Amendments to 1) adopt a Universal Design Ordinance, 2) amend the Second Unit Ordinance and Accessory Building regulations, and 3) amend the Multifamily Residential Combining Zone District Regulations.






Under State of California law, the City of Alameda should be ensuring that Alameda’s planning and development policies and regulations provide for the full range and diversity of housing types needed to accommodate Alameda's diverse population, including seniors, families with disabilities, and lower income households.


The 2015-2023 City of Alameda Housing Element, which was certified by the State of California Department of Housing and Community Development, includes a statement of goals, policies and action programs to improve the availability and diversity of housing in Alameda to address the Alameda community’s diverse housing needs.  


Housing Element Goal #2 reads:  “Provide housing that meets the City’s diverse housing needs, specifically including affordable housing, special needs housing, and senior housing. 


To implement Goal #2, the Housing Element includes:


                     Policy HE-4 “Encourage and support residential opportunities for senior citizens, including senior housing projects, multifamily housing projects with accessible and small housing units, assisted living projects, and in-law projects.”


                     Program 4.1 “Continue to support the addition of secondary “In-law” units for small households or seniors……”


                     Program 4.2 “Consider amendments to the Zoning Ordinance to require universal design elements in all new housing projects of five or more units.”







This report and the attached exhibits describe three separate but related zoning text amendments designed to implement the Housing Element and improve access to housing for seniors, small households, and residents with disabilities.  The need for these amendments is supported by the following statistics:    


                     Approximately 54 million Americans have at least one disability, constituting the largest minority group in the nation;

                     Seventeen percent of Alameda’s present population are seniors, and 11.4 percent are persons with disabilities.  These numbers are higher than the national averages for either population.

                     Sixteen percent of respondents to the City of Alameda’s Social Service and Human Relations Board’s Community Needs Assessment of 2012 identified themselves or a family member as a person with a disability, and 32 percent of respondents believe that services for people with disabilities are the highest need. Furthermore, the number of respondents to this survey represents a statistically significant percentage of the city’s total population.

                     The population of seniors is growing at an unprecedented rate locally as well as nationally, and is expected to double within Alameda County between 1990 and 2020.  Persons over 65 years old comprise 11 percent of the county’s population and represent its fastest growing segment. The senior population in the City of Alameda is also growing.  In 1970, seniors were less than 11% of the population. In 2010, over 13% of the population reported being 65 years old or older.  According to the U.S. Census, seniors will continue to increase as a portion of the overall U.S. population.  As of 2015, an estimated 15% of the U.S. population is 65 years or older.  By 2060, 24% of the population will be 65 or older.  Due to longer life spans, approximately 2% of the current US population is 85 or older.  This percentage is anticipated to increase to 5% of the population by 2060.


                     The number of certified aging-in-place specialists in the country has more than doubled, to nearly 5,000, since 2008.

                     According to a 2000 AARP survey, more than 90% percent of persons age 65 and older would prefer to stay in their current residence as long as possible. One key method to promote continuing independence in the home is to build and incorporate a number of architecturally friendly design features into new homes as they are built.

In addition, the Planning Board, at its September 14 meeting, reviewed the Housing Element Annual Report and provided direction to staff to pursue the Zoning Ordinance amendments outlined in this report.



Amendment #1:  Universal Design Ordinance


Since 2012, the Planning Board has been requiring major residential projects to include certain specific universal design features.   The Marina Shores project, the Del Monte project, the 2100 Clement Avenue project, and the Alameda Landing residential project all included project-specific conditions of approval to ensure that a percentage of the units in each project included:


                     An accessible primary entry that does not require the resident or visitors to climb stairs to access the unit.

                     An accessible path of travel without stairs from the primary entry to a living area, sleeping area, bathroom, and kitchen area.


To improve and streamline the development review process and minimize the need for project-by-project negotiations, staff is recommending that the City of Alameda adopt a Universal Design Ordinance that establishes uniform requirements for all new residential projects.


The draft Universal Design Ordinance (Exhibit 1) is designed to:


                     Establish clear, easily understood universal design requirements for each new housing development to provide certainty for the development community and eliminate the need for project-by-project negotiations regarding universal design.


                     Create requirements that can be easily enforced through the plan check process and the inspection process.   


                     Apply to all new residential projects with five or more units.  The ordinance will not apply to residential remodels or small projects with one to four homes. 


                     Require that 15% of the units in each project be “universally designed” to be easily adaptable for a senior citizen, a resident “aging in place” or a resident with a mobility disability.  


The draft ordinance is based on the concept that a “universally designed” unit should be: 


                     Attractive to all populations including families with a disabled family member or seniors aging in place with increasing mobility issues. 


                     Easily and relatively inexpensive to adapt to accommodate the needs of a senior with increasing mobility issues or a new resident with a disability.   


The draft ordinance identifies specific design features that must be provided in a universally designed unit in the original design and construction, because attempting to retrofit the unit at a later date to accommodate these features is extremely problematic or expensive.  Specifically, the draft ordinance requires that a universally designed unit must provide: 


                     Access to the Front Door:  An accessible primary entry that does not require the resident or visitors to climb stairs to access the unit is essential for seniors or residents with mobility issues.  Adding wheel chair ramps to access the front door of a home can be expensive, and in some cases impossible, if the home is designed with many steps between the sidewalk and the front door. 


                     Access to the Living Spaces in the Unit:  A senior aging in place or a disabled resident must have an accessible path of travel (without stairs and with adequate hallway width) from the front door to the living room, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen area.  Stairs within a home are problematic and can be difficult to eliminate or modify after the home is constructed.  In addition, the hallways and doorways need to be wide enough to accommodate a wheel chair, and the walls should have blocking to make it easy to add grab bars if they are needed for a future resident of the unit. 


                     Accessible Bathrooms and Kitchens: Build bathrooms and kitchen fixtures that can be easily modified at a later date with a minimum cost if necessary to accommodate an individual’s needs.  Replacing fixtures in the bathroom and kitchen is often costly.  For example, replacing a bathtub with a shower typically costs over $1,000. Furthermore, if the floor area within the kitchen and bathroom is originally built in confined spaces, a retrofit of the space to accommodate wheelchair access becomes infeasible and would require costly and extensive interior remodel of the home.  Therefore, the Universal Design Ordinance requires that the kitchen and bathroom include adequate floor space to operate a wheel chair and that the bathroom include a shower facility that does not require a senior or a resident with mobility issues to negotiate a bathtub. 


In conclusion, staff believes that the draft ordinance will ensure that at least 15% of all the new housing constructed in Alameda will be able to accommodate the community’s growing senior population and future residents that may have disabilities.


Amendment #2: Proposed Second Unit Ordinance Amendments


Second units (sometimes called “granny flats” or “in-law units”) are small studio units or one-bedroom units that are less than 600 square feet in size that are located on a property with a single-family home.  Many California jurisdictions, such as the City of Santa Cruz, establish their Second Unit programs as an important strategy to address the need for senior housing and small affordable units without disrupting existing neighborhoods or relying on major new housing developments.  


The draft amendments to the Second Unit Ordinance (Exhibit 2) and Accessory Building Regulations (Exhibit 3) are recommended to facilitate the creation of second units in Alameda to help address Alameda’s need for senior housing and affordable housing units for small households. Detached second units located in the rear yard can also be an effective way to create a “universally designed” unit.


Unfortunately, the current City of Alameda Second Unit Ordinance produces less than one (1) secondary unit per year in Alameda.  A primary factor is that the current ordinance is only available to large single-family properties in the R-1 zoning district with a lot size of 7,500 sf or greater.  Given that the Alameda community has a demonstrated interest in increasing the supply of affordable units for seniors and other small households, the draft amendments to the Second Unit Ordinance are designed to make it easier for Alameda home owners to build small secondary residential units on properties with single family homes. 


As shown in Exhibit 2, the existing Second Unit Ordinance provisions establish a series of requirements that must be met to permit an Alameda property owner to build a secondary unit.  The proposed revisions to the ordinance: 


                     Clarify that secondary units are permitted in all residential zoning districts on properties with a single family home.


                     Reduce the minimum lot size requirement from 7,500 square feet to 4,000 square feet in size.    


                     Clarify that the second unit and the single family home must provide a minimum of two independently accessible parking spaces.


                     Eliminates existing conflicts between the provisions for detached second units and the existing provisions for accessory buildings in residential districts.


In conclusion, staff believes that the proposed revisions will reduce most of the existing regulatory barriers that are preventing Alameda home owners from adding small affordable second units for seniors, seniors aging in place, in-laws, and people who need affordable “starter” housing.


Amendment #3: Multi-Family Overlay District Amendments

The Community Commercial Zoning District, which is the zoning district that governs the Park Street and Webster Street commercial districts, permits housing; but it does not permit single family homes.  Any new housing developed in these districts must be in a multifamily configuration above the ground floor retail uses because the City determined that single family homes would not support the City's overall vision for a mixed use commercial district on Webster Street and Park Street.  


In contrast, the Multifamily Overlay Zoning District which was adopted in 2012, to permit and facilitate multifamily housing on a specific list of properties in Alameda that were deemed appropriate for multifamily housing, also permits single-family housing. 


Since multifamily housing can be more affordable than single-family housing and multifamily housing has been shown to generate fewer automobile trips per unit, staff is recommending that Planning Board and City Council consider prohibiting detached single-family housing on sites that are designated for multifamily housing.  The specific sites that would be impacted by the change include: 


                     Any future development proposals for the North Housing site, a portion of the Alameda Landing waterfront site, the Shipways site, and the Encinal Terminals site, and

                     Any future re-development or change in entitlements requested on the Marina Shore property and the In-N-Out Burger/Chase Bank/Safeway Gas Site.




The proposed amendments implement action programs within the City of Alameda General Plan Housing Element, which was approved by the City Council in July 2014.  The environmental impacts of adoption and implementation of the Housing Element were evaluated and disclosed at the time of the adoption of the Housing Element.  No further environmental review is required.    




Given the scope of the proposed amendments, staff is requesting review of the proposals from the Alameda community, the Planning Board, the Commission on Disability Issues (CDI), and the Social Service Human Relations Board (SSHRB). 


At the September 28, 2015 hearing, staff would like to get the Planning Board’s comments on the draft amendments.   Staff will present the proposed amendments to a joint meeting of the SSHRB and CDI on September 24.  Staff will continue to solicit comments from other interested parties. 


Staff plans to return to the Planning Board on October 26, 2015, for a final Planning Board public hearing and recommendation to the City Council.  Staff would like to schedule a City Council public hearing for adoption of the ordinance amendments prior to the end of the calendar year to take effect in 2016.




Hold a public hearing to review and comment on the proposed draft Zoning Ordinance amendments.  


Respectfully submitted,



Andrew Thomas

Assistant Community Development Director



1.                     Draft Universal Design Ordinance

2.                     Draft Second Unit Ordinance Amendments

3.                     Draft Accessory Building Regulations Amendments