The Boom & Bottleneck of ADUs in Berkeley

Since the change in California law in 2016, construction of accessory dwelling units in the Bay Area has exploded. It’s now much easier to permit a secondary unit behind your single-family home. Still, permitting an ADU in Berkeley is not always a simple procedure, as a recent Berkeleyside article explores.

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Berkeleyside spoke with McDunn ADUs and one of our favorite design partners, Larson Shores Architects, about some of the obstacles to permitting:

“I think some of what we have seen is that yes, at the planning level it has gotten easier if you meet all the requirements,” said Carrie Shores of Oakland’s Larson Shores Architecture and Interiors, which has been designing ADUs for about nine years.

However, Shores said her firm has several clients who have gone to the city about building an ADU “and the city planners aren’t exactly sure and are changing their minds about what to enforce and not to enforce.”

Another challenge: “Clients are getting different information depending on (which clerk) they talk to,” the architect said.

Dan McDunn, the owner of McDunn ADUs in Berkeley, said the regulations are so complex, “it is impossible to know it all.”

On a recent visit to the planning desk, when McDunn asked a question of a planner, “she brought out her ADU cheat sheet and it was a one-inch-thick binder. It’s the multitude of rules and regulations that have existed historically coupled with changes that have been fluid. There have been multiple changes post-state law.”

Under those circumstances, it’s understandable that some clerks might interpret the changes differently than others, McDunn said.

The numbers reveal that these obstacles, while sometimes cumbersome, are not preventing those who are really eager to build from building. As Berkeleyside reports, 14 ADUs were permitted in 2016, 57 in 2017, and more than 100 ADU permits were submitted in in 2018.

Based on the volume of inquiries we receive as a general contractor specializing in the construction of accessory dwelling units, we expect those figures to climb even higher in 2019.

Dan emphasizes that his comments and experiences of frustration with the permitting process shouldn’t dissuade homeowners from building an ADU. With a little patience and an experienced team to guide you through permitting, adding a granny flat or artist studio to your backyard is easier than it ever was before.

If you’re seriously considering building an ADU — or are already in the design process — click here to send Dan a message about it. He’s always happy to discuss new projects.

Dan McDunn