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City approves zoning rules for ‘ADU’ use

Leaders review fireworks strategy

City leaders have passed a new zoning ordinance amendment regarding accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on residential lots. During the most recent meeting of the Merced City Council, they also reviewed a final report on this year’s Celebrate Safe Fireworks campaign from the police and fire chiefs.

Council members voted 5-2 to pass a new ADU ordinance that offers guidelines on housing options for extended family members, and the availability of rental housing. Council members Anthony Martinez and Fernando Echevarria voted NO on the measure. Both were in favor of fewer restrictions on ADUs and “owner occupancy” rules.

The current tight housing and rental market in Merced has been a hot-button issue.

A main issue of the ordinance that had caused considerable debate was resolved at the Aug. 5 meeting. The council agreed to allow for parking within the setback areas of homes (including the driveway) for accessory dwelling units only. State law currently requires that an ADU on a residential lot requires one parking space in a “legal required” area of the property.

For most homes in Merced, driveways do not count as the legal required parking space. That space is usually located within the garage. The new ADU rule will make an exception for requirements.

The council also agreed to retain an owner occupancy requirement regarding ADUs within R-1 zoning districts only. This rule, for example, is considering granny units that are built in the back of single family homes. Property owners in this R-1 situation would be required to live on site. In contrast, property owners are not required to live on the property in R-2 districts, where home with ADUs, or a duplex arrangement, are commonplace.

In the ordinance, ADUs — with a maximum size of 1,200 square feet — must be clearly subordinate to the primary dwelling, as well as have separate kitchen and bathroom facilities.

With regard to garage conversions, city leaders have been hesitant to encourage them on a large scale out of fear they would affect the overall aesthetic of neighborhoods.

If a property owner is converting a garage into an accessory dwelling unit, then the new ordinance would apply to them. These owners could replace the required parking that they lost anywhere on the lot including in the driveway or exterior setback area.

However, if they are simply adding living space to their home by converting a garage without a separate kitchen and bathroom, then the new ordinance would not affect them, but they would have to abide by existing property rules. They would have to replace the required parking that they lost from the garage modification to somewhere else on their lot, but NOT within any required setback areas, including the driveway.

In any case, when making home and property modifications, it’s a good idea to find out more on requirements from the city’s Planning Division. Call (209) 385-6858 or visit their offices on the 2nd floor of the Merced Civic Center at 678 West 18th Street. Office hours are 10 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Email Planning at: [email protected]

Fireworks enforcement

Fire Chief Billy Alcorn and Police Chief Chris Goodwin agree that the city’s Celebrate Safe illegal fireworks enforcement campaign helped reduce worrisome activity on the days immediately before and after the big Fourth of July holiday. However, they did admit illegal activity surged once again on July 4th itself.

“We learned a lot and we are making a lot of improvements to make next year even better,” Alcorn said.

Goodwin agreed, saying: “We need to keep on this, and work more with other agencies in the county.”

The campaigned was supported by a massive education initiative in various media avenues throughout town. Tip lines manned by volunteers were also set up as a way to respond and avoid the inundation of the 911 system.

During the holiday, police arrested two people for possession of illegal fireworks, and they say 151 pounds of illegal fireworks were taken off the streets. Chief Alcorn said the presence of fire crews on city streets kept those engaged in lighting illegal fireworks on the move, and many items were found left on the streets and in vacant lot areas.

There were 12 fire incidents on July 4 in the city, with five minor fires related to fireworks. There were no serious structure fires.

Among the lessons learned, the chiefs recommended that the enforcement campaign should intensify next year. They say the tip lines should continue to target reports of illegal fireworks leading up to the holiday, but monitoring of the lines should be improved. Also, secondary dispatch centers should include additional staffing, they said.

They also pointed out that the council should consider shortening the sales and use period of Safe & Sane fireworks, and they recommended the creation of a multi-agency task force to saturate specific neighborhoods instead of having units spread thin throughout the area.

Said Councilwoman Jill McLeod said: “If you can get people to buy in and not have it be a hugely punitive kind of approach to it, and have a positive attitude about it, it will likely be much more successful, and that’s demonstrated by the numbers.”

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