The Westminster City Council has approved the creation of an ad hoc committee to study and implement changes and updates to the city’s accessory dwelling units ordinance to, among other things, make it easier for homeowners to build additional rooms on their properties.
Editors’ Note: This dispatch is part of the Voice of OC Youth Media program, working with student journalists to cover public policy issues across Orange County. If you would like to submit your own student media project related to Orange County civics or if you have any response to this work, contact Digital Editor Sonya Quick at [email protected].
These secondary units are smaller, independent rooms that can be built on the same lot as the single-family home. In January, Westminster issued an urgency ordinance regarding the units and is now looking to enact more permanent rules and regulations to govern the add on units. Among the new goals are to provide a more expedited process for construction and changes to the current ordinance.
City staff in October presented the suggested updates and plans to speed up the current two-step approval process for secondary room additions to the City Council.
The new proposal would collapse the two steps into one. Owners would now have the responsibility to report their building plans and disclose any unpermitted construction.
Council member Sergio Contreras raised concerns about this new “honor system” the applicants for unit additions would have to uphold.
“Are we just gonna assume what they’re telling us is true,” he asked.
Senior Planner Christopher Wong emphasized the proposed process would still be holding applicants accountable and the city would still be involved.
Some other changes planned to the current ordinance include expanding the amount of square footage that could be used from 850-1,000 square feet to 1,200 square feet or 50% of the primary dwelling, or whichever is greater.
Another proposed change would allow an unlimited number of bedrooms to be created, currently limited to two.
Contreras noted another potential issue with the proposal, pointing out that this would further impact the parking problem that many Westminster neighborhoods already face.
“It’s very concerning,” said Contreras. “This is not gonna do us any good if people can’t park in their own neighborhood if we’ve allowed unlimited bedrooms in an accessory dwelling unit (per home).”
Planning Manager Steve Ratkay offered comparisons to the council members to show what other cities were doing with their unit additions.
Garden Grove, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, and Stanton all allow up to 1,200 square feet to be used for the units. Ratkay added that Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach have no limits to the number of bedrooms that can be added.
Vice Mayor Kimberly Ho echoed many of Contreras’ concerns as she argued there was not enough information to come to any conclusions at this meeting. She emphasized issues regarding the application process and how the city would hold applicants and owners accountable.
“What other ways can we expedite [the process]?” said Ho, requesting more information and solid numbers before she makes any decisions.
Assistant City Attorney Christian Bettenhausen suggested that an ad hoc committee be formed to work along with staff to iron out the concerns with parking, unit size, and the streamlining process as major points to be studied or evaluated by the committee.
The council agreed and voted 4-0 to approve the formation of a committee. Contreras was absent for the vote.