County Developments in Post-Fire Residential Housing

Tue, 11/07/17
By: Kimberly Corcoran

The County of Sonoma has passed several new ordinances to help alleviate some of the effects of the housing-related impact of the recent wildfires. Some of these ordinances affect what the County calls “accessory structures” such as pool houses, art studios and guest houses.  Other new ordinances affect where, and how long, one can park a recreational vehicle. These ordinances affect only property in the unincorporated portion of the County. 

First, the County of Sonoma is now allowing the rental of some structures that previously were not permitted for residential use, which is a marked change from prior law. Now, guest house, workshops, art studios and other accessory structures can be considered for rental to fire victims as housing. Those buildings may not have kitchens and may have showers located outside the structure (a pool house, for example). However, recognizing the housing needs of County residents, it is now permissible to use many of these buildings for residential use.  While not specifically addressed in the ordinance, it may be that the County will require proof of septic capacity, and similar limitations. Understandably, the situation is fluid and the County is “fine tuning” the application of the new ordinances.

The County of Sonoma is also encouraging construction of accessory structures. As part of this effort, the County is waiving all or a portion of the permitting fees for new construction of these buildings, depending on the size of the proposed structure. We also expect that anyone seeking to build such a structure may find that their permit is expedited. If such a building was in your long-term improvement plan, now may be the time to go forward with your plans. 

Second, the County is allowing long-term use of recreational vehicles on residential property.  A new ordinance allows longer-term use of such vehicles for housing people impacted by the fires.  During the first 45 days, one does not need to obtain a permit for the vehicle, and septic and other needs can be met by temporary means.  Within the 45-day period, however, one must apply to the County for a permit for longer-term use.  After the initial 45-day period, the RVs will be required to have electrical, sewage and water hookups of a semi-permanent nature.  It is not clear whether the applicant for such a permit would be the property owner or the RV resident but we expect more clarity on this ordinance with time and it is expected that such permits will be relatively easy to obtain.  Long-term sewage needs can be met with the presence of a pumping contract with an approved provider; long-term permanent septic connections are not necessary.  The County Supervisors made it clear more than one RV can be accommodated on residential property, limited only by the presence of sufficient infrastructure. 

These ordinances will help our County’s residents, both directly by providing housing and indirectly by ensuring stability of our employment base. If you have property unaffected by the fire, and want to help your neighbors cope with the post-fire housing crisis, there are now several new ways to help. Sonoma Strong!

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