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We get mail. Lots of it. One of the topics that seems to be flooding the SAH/SCC inbox these days is ADUs, or Accessory Dwelling Units. Some people are trying to stop them from becoming ubiquitous in their neighborhoods. Others are trying to erect them to make a little more money on their home investment, or as a relatively low-impact way to add housing to accessible neighborhoods without disrupting the existing character.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of sitting on the California Preservation Foundation jury for the annual Preservation Awards. One of the most interesting, and in my view, progressive projects presented was the ADU guidelines for historic districts, developed by South Pasadena.

First things first. What is an ADU? An ADU is a housing unit with independent living facilities located on the same parcel as an existing residential property. ADUs can house friends, relatives (such as adult children and aging family members), and caregivers, offering them proximity and privacy. ADUs can also provide a steady source of rental income to homeowners to help pay a mortgage.

They may be attached or detached, the conversion of an existing structure—such as a garage—or even a partial home conversion. They are usually around 1,000 square feet in size.

The City of South Pasadena recently commissioned Architectural Resources Group (ARG) to study and provide design guidance on how owners of historic properties can create ADUs that do not disrupt the feeling of historic neighborhoods or compromise the integrity of the historic building on the property. The city has a rich history of architectural and cultural resources, and is wise to be proactive on this topic before irreversible damage could be done.

Recommendations focus on such issues as the visibility of the ADU from the public right of way. Other issues are size and massing. ADUs can be up to 1,200 square feet, and there are some historic properties that are 1,000 feet or fewer. Obviously, an ADU that is larger and more dominant than the primary dwelling is not preferred. Orientation is another aspect for consideration. The guidelines generally suggest that the ADU have the same orientation as the primary dwelling.

Overall, this is a document that planners in cities all over Southern California can use to inform and guide homeowners in their development of ADUs for historic properties. And frankly, it should probably be applied to all properties so as to not compromise the feeling of our neighborhoods.

Housing in Los Angeles and Southern California is an issue that is not going away any time soon. The region has long been known for its single-family residences. Architectural history has focused on this aspect of our built environment. We commend forward-thinking South Pasadena for electing to do something about it. The design guidelines can be found here.

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