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Sonoma Co. approves zoning for more housing units

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The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors made changes to the county’s zoning code Tuesday that expand opportunities for affordable workforce housing and new housing types in the wake of the October 2017 wildfires.

Much of the discussion centered on attached and detached cottage housing, also referred to as missing middle housing, in an Urban Service Area already served by water and sewer. The cottage housing would be allowed only in low- and medium-density residential zones.

The zoning code approved by the board will allow for the conversion of a single-family home into a multi-unit building occupied by separate households, or an early 20th Century style detached cluster of three small cottages that blend with a single-family neighborhood.

Permit Sonoma Director Tennis Wick said:

“We’re going back to the future.”

County planners say the cottage housing serves as much needed infill development that is already established in communities like Sonoma County where urban land available for housing is limited.

There will be a delay on the cottage housing in the burned Larkfield-Wikiup area north of Santa Rosa, but cottage housing will be allowed in the burned Glen Ellen area.

Wick said the county’s zoning changes “move the county out of the single-family home in low-density areas” paradigm.

Wick said:

“You don’t treat a 400-square-foot rental like a 4,000 square foot home.”

Supervisor Susan Gorin, who lost her Sonoma Valley home in a wildfire last year, said many residents in her district say they cannot afford to rebuild their homes.

She said the zoning changes that provide for lower-cost housing could make them reconsider rebuilding.

Supervisor James Gore said he has heard speculators are planning to build in Larkfield-Wikiup.

The housing envisioned by the zoning changes would also benefit seniors who prefer to live alone or with families rather than in assisted living facilities, and multi-generational families.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane said:

“Seniors often die when they have to move. It’s stressful. Multi-generational living is so smart. We absolutely need flexibility in our housing.”

Supervisor David Rabbitt said:

“There are areas of the county that do not feel there is a housing crisis. They are living the high life.”

Code changes enacted in the county last year now allow accessory dwelling units and junior dwelling units on the same lot or within a single-family home on a low density residential lot. Duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes also are permitted in a medium density residential district.

The county will consider a third set of housing initiatives that identify and rezone sites for housing in accordance with the General Plan’s housing element later this year.

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