San Carlos Accessory Dwelling

In the draft Housing Element, the City of San Carlos will promote the develocraftsman-exteriorpment of second dwelling units (SDU) to increase housing opportunities. Some of the incentives for secondary dwelling units include encouraging local agencies, districts and utility providers to reduce hookup or other fees to facilitate the development of second units.  The City also aims to modify some of the second unit development standards, such as eliminating the 400-foot distance standard currently required between secondary dwelling units.  Another progressive goal for the city is identifying possible sources of funding for secondary dwelling units and “research potential funding sources for remodels of existing homes to create an autonomous second unit within the existing structure”.   The city will also continue to promote the amnesty program to legalize existing unpermitted second units.

Here are a few of the current requirements related to second dwelling units in San Carlos, though we recommend you review the zoning ordinance for the most accurate definition, requirements, variances and exceptions:

  • Attached SDU may be 30% of the home’s square-feet in area up to a 1,200 square-foot maximum. Detached SDU is limited to 640 square-feet maximum.
  • A Detached SDU must have a minimum of five feet from all side and rear lot lines. Detached SDU may be located in the rear one half of the lot and have a second floor element only if located over a detached garage.
  • Maximum height is 15’ unless located over a garage, bringing the height limit to 28’.
  • A tandem parking space may also be used to meet the parking requirement for the second dwelling unit, providing such space will not encumber access to a required parking space for the primary single-unit dwelling

Second units are not allowed if there is another second dwelling unit within 400 feet measured from nearest edge of the lot line of each respective or proposed second dwelling unit. However, the homeowner can obtain a waiver for this restriction.  Two other waivers related to the SDU are for the 5’ setback requirement (only for SDUs created prior to January 1, 2003) and window and door openings.

Verify with the Planning Division to confirm your requirements in your zoning district. Learn more about transforming your home by learning about our process, or contact us today if you are interested in building your own second dwelling unit, carriage house or other home project.

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In-Law Studios: A Creative Housing Solution for San Francisco

In-Law Unit
In-Law Unit

Grappling with their affordable housing crisis, the City of San Francisco is evaluating this pressing issue from many different angles. One unique solution is encouraging the development of accessory dwelling units (also commonly known as secondary dwelling or in-law units).   Recently, the Board of Supervisors passed two pieces of legislation that now supports this type of housing:

First, Supervisor David Chiu’s ordinance grants legal status to existing illegal units built before January 2013. The ordinance also prohibits the costs of legalization from being passed through to the tenant.  Recognizing the existing illegal units can potentially add anywhere between 30,000 to 50,000 units to the City’s housing stock.

The second recently passed ordinance was Supervisor Scott Wiener’s legislation that legalizes the new construction of accessory dwelling units in District 8, primarily the Castro neighborhood. Density and other planning code requirements are waived to support the development of in-law units. To ensure these accessory dwellings meet the City’s goals of offering these units as additional affordable housing options, the Planning Department will monitor the rents and publish a report evaluating the effectiveness of the ordinance.  Other requirements  include:

  •  limiting the maximum square footage to 750 square feet
  • the units must be built within the existing building envelope
  • for buildings that have less than 10 existing dwelling units, only one in-law unit is permitted
  • buildings with 10 or more units are permitted to have up to two in-law units

Now, Wiener is proposing yet another piece of creative legislation to spur the increase of in-law units. His legislation would allow property owners who are mandated to do seismic work on their buildings to add in-law units within their soft-story buildings. This provides an opportunity for the property owners to earn additional rental income that will make the necessary retrofits viable.

As stated in San Francisco’s Housing Element, the housing market continues to be tight and housing costs are beyond the reach of many households. In-law units in existing residential buildings represent a simple and cost-effective method of expanding the City’s housing supply. Click here to learn more about San Francisco’s planning code for accessory dwelling units.

If you are interested in pursing your own accessory dwelling units, reach out to New Avenue at 855-5NewAve or email

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Have any questions? We are available to discuss your goals & ideas. There’s no fee or commitment. To request a time for a call, just click here and tell us when to call you.

Redwood City Considers Updates to Regulations on In-Law Studios

Redwood City
Redwood City

Redwood City is working hard to make it easier for homeowners to build an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), encouraging public participation as they consider potential changes to current regulations.   Based on public comment and input from Planning Commission and City Council from recent study sessions, staff is now considering the following recommendations:

  • Allow the ADU parking space to be in the front, side and rear yard or tandem in the driveway
  • Decrease setbacks from 20 feet to 6 feet for one-story units but remain 20 feet for two-story buildings
  • Allow homeowner residency in either the ADU or main house, as opposed to restricting the homeowner to living in the main house only
  • Increasing the height limit to 20 feet for detached units, and maintaining the 2.5-story height limit intact for attached ADUs
  • Increase allowable number of bedrooms from one to two for properties greater than 10,000 square feet
  • 10 percent lot coverage bonus if the ADU is provided as housing for the elderly or individuals with special needs

There will be at least one additional Planning Commission meeting allowing for public comment and any final recommendations will be discussed during a public City Council session.

As the leading expert for accessory dwellings, New Avenue is excited that these discussions are taking place in Redwood City. To learn more, visit at

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Little Atherton’s Big Housing Market – How Small Homes Strike a Balance

An unincorporated area of San Mateo County, the tiny town of Atherton has a major market for mansions.  In fact, Atherton is Atherton, CAreportedly the most affluent zip code in the nation and is home to Silicon Valley’s tech darlings like Facbook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Google’s Eric Schmidt.  For this reason,  Planning for the required number of housing units has proved especially difficult for this Peninsula community with their limited space for new construction.  By utilizing the expansive lots and existing infrastructure of their single family homes, these accessory dwellings are a practical solution.  Other benefits of these small homes include the valuable opportunity for multigenerational living, supplemental income for owners and affordable housing for renters. Here are a few of the requirements related to accessory dwelling units in Atherton, though you’ll have to  review the municipal code for the most accurate definition, requirements, variances and exceptions:

  • The second unit shall not exceed 1,200 sq ft (doubled in 2010 from previous maximum of 600 sq ft)
  • May enroach into the side and rear yard setbacks by not more than twenty percent of the required setback
  • Maximum height is thirty feet
  • Parking requirements are 1 space per number of bedrooms in second unit

In addition, the owner must occupy either (or both) the main house or second unit.  Verify with the Planning Division to confirm your requirements in your zoning district. Learn more about accessory dwellings by learning about our process, read our client stories or contact us today if you are interested in building your own backyard cottage.

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Have any questions? We are available to discuss your goals & ideas. There’s no fee or commitment. To request a time for a call, just click here and tell us when to call you.

Chicken Coop or Cottage?

What’s in YOUR backyard?

Do you have an old garden, incessant blackberry bushes, or perhaps a chicken coop?

Chicken Coop
Chicken Coop

Dennis’ mother was happy with their decision and although she wanted a cozy space and a rustic style, even the chickens didn’t care for the coop that had no chance of being repaired.

Formerly a plant dealer and always a green thumb connoisseur, Lisa used the art of gardening to arrange succulents, agave, trees, shrubs, and potted flowering plants along mazy, pebbly paths.

They decided to nest into the luscious landscaping a 600 sf one bedroom, one bathroom, L-shaped small home with a living/kitchen area and a gable roof and loft.  Take a peek at the transformation in action by visiting the client’s story page.  Also, click on the floor plans and loft below for a close-up look at the details of the design.

Floor Plans
Floor Plans

Now Dennis and Lisa have their beautiful new cottage….

El Cerrito Cottage
El Cerrito Cottage


1 - Facebook 1






and a great new alarm system:


Beware - cute chihuahua
Beware – Super cute chihuahua

Continue reading “Chicken Coop or Cottage?”

Menlo Park addresses Housing by making it easier to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

  Menlo Park took this opportunity to meet their RHNA of 655 dwelling units by concurrently amending their ADU ordinance. Now it’s easier for residents to build a backyard cottage!  Some of the adopted regulations include:

  • Reducing the required interior side setback to five feet
  • A maximum size of 640 square feet but may be built up to 700 square feet to allow access for disabled residents
  • Increasing the maximum height to 17 feet
  • Allowing parking in required front and interior side yards
The ordinance was adopted on May 13, 2014 and became effective on June 13, 2014.  Visit the City of Menlo more information on the revised zoning code, and for a copy of the amendment, click here.  We look forward to seeing more backyard cottages, in-law studios, private home spas, guest houses, music rooms, art studios and more!
Erin’s In-Law Studio photo credit: Scott Kline
New Avenue did a project in Menlo Park not too long ago. Check out Erin’s story.

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Have any questions? We are available to discuss your goals & ideas. There’s no fee or commitment. To request a time for a call, just click here and tell us when to call you.

Summer in Southern Ontario (Backyard Cottages Galore!)

I’m just back from a week in Silver Bay, Ontario where I had a great time with family and old friends. Silver Bay is a little bay on Lake Erie south of Toronto and west of Buffalo, NY. I grew up spending summers here and spent time in and around a number of little backyard cottages. There was the bunk house that we used to crash in after sneaking Labatt’s Blue past the parents, the mansion with a “gate house” that I rode past on my way to a summer camp, and the backyard cottage that a friend’s mother built for herself so her kids and grandkids could live in the main home.

While there I took a quick bike ride through some neighboring bays to see how many other small cottages might be tucked in corners or hidden back in wooded lots and hoped to find something worth sharing. I was shocked to see that there were tons of backyard cottages that came in all shapes and sizes.

The bays along Lake Erie’s north coast (yes, a lake can have a coast) has been a part of Canada’s cottage country for over 100 years. Trains used to cut across Canada to get from New York to Buffalo to Detriot, Chicago and beyond. A quick shot across the Canadian side of Lake Erie was the most direct route and since this was before cars were common, people would hop a train and ride 10, 20 or 30 miles, (just far enough to escape the city heat and get away from the belching smoke of the steel mills) then hop off at their stop and walk one mile from the tracks to their cottage. And then they’d stay there for months. It was a summer we’d all dream of: truly off the grid and literally unplugged.

Here are a bunch of the backyard cottages, guest houses and in-law cottages that are tucked away on dirt roads and little firelane’s around Silver Bay, Ontario.

A few old friends enjoying a martini (or two or four) on the deck of their main home.

And the backyard cottage behind where their children currently live.

2 - Jake and Sue Laneway House

This mansion was build over 100 years ago… and came with two great little gate houses that are now perfect little homes.

3 - Mega Mansion

One of two gate houses to that accompany that mega mansion.

4 Gate house 1 of 2 for the mantion - front

The second gate house.  This is just across from the blue one.  5 Gate House 2 of 2 for the mansion

6 Gate House 1 of 2 for the mansion

Here’s a second stone mansion on acres of land.  The little house on the left was truly a carriage house when the original home was built approximately 100 years ago. The carriage house is now it’s own nice little second unit. 7 Carriage House on the left

A close up of the carriage house…8 Carriage House - Now a private home

Another mega “cottage” in the back right that came with a carriage house that is now a perfect little beach front home. 9 Big 100 year old house and carriage house

That little cottage on the right is an old garage that has grown and evolved overtime.  It hosts a small business part time and family the rest of the time.

10 Guest House tucked away behind the main home 11 Guest house tucked away between the street and the main home

This guest house was a big surprise.  It’s tucked away in the woods but it’s an architectural gem and frankly, way nicer than you’d expect in a little bay outside of Buffalo, NY. 13 Guest House Cedar Bay

The side of the Cedar Bay guest house.

14 Guest House Cedar Bay - privacy lattice

The front of the Cedar Bay guest house. This is the front deck that looks out over Lake Erie. 15 Front of Guest House in Cedar Bay

There’s the main house on the left and the little guest house on the right. 16 Cedar Bay Big and Little House

This is standing on the beach looking back.  You can see a bit of the guest house hidden in the trees on the left. 17 Guest house tucked away on th left

This cute little cottage is not all that little, but the red is inspiring.

20 Not a small home.. but looks great

If I was a gambling man, I’d bet that everyone who has stayed here enjoyed profound clarity of thought, deep soul filling happiness and they wrote a novel while there. 22 Stone Guest House

This was once a garage but is now a serving a much more important role in this universe… it hosts poker nights, sleepovers, and rowdy games of eucher. 23 Garage Conversion

I’m really not sure if this is just storage or if it’s a working cottage.  It looks like it has some history to it and hopefully it will have a colorful future too. 24 Guest room… needs a little TLC

25 Squatters

People are often looking for barn doors.  It’s not necessarily an expensive project that has $2,000 custom doors and $700 hardware… there are countless sheds and barns with simple hardware like this shed has…28 Rolling Barn Door - the budget variety It’s not all mansions with carriage houses around here.  There are a number of smaller homes with us regular folk living there.  This little guest house made of reclaimed windows is a great little backyard cottage. 29 DIY guest room

This is neither tiny, nor small, nor a backyard cottage, but it’s such great design that it’s worthy of inclusion here.  30 Huge Porch on a not so small cottage

31 Fireplace

Technically the little detached guest room does qualify as a second unit… 32 Tiny Guest room

33 Tiny Guest Room

When a growing family needed more space they added a second cottage just slightly behind the first one.  It looks quite separate from the street now and they feel like two totally separate homes while only being about eight feet apart. 34 Two little houses 35 Two litle houses 2

Lastly,  this little guy has been hanging around for a while and there never seems to be a summer weekend when it isn’t put to use.  36 This works too!

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$1,000 for a “free” salvaged window

Salvaging windows and finding crazy deals on Craigslist can be fun, sustainable and affordable. But salvaged windows can also be costly if they aren’t part of the plan from the very beginning.

In one of our favorite projects for our favorite clients we used several reclaimed windows in a little 120 square foot office.

The windows were cheap and some were free, but there were several changes that occurred that got pricey. This is an example and cautionary tale about how changing something like a window can cause the cost of the work to double or triple. This is due to the increased hours required to make the changes and every hour that a guy is working adds up.

For example, this cool nine pane window could be installed in about four hours. A $65 per hour carpenter adding water proofing, leveling, squaring and attaching it to the walls will add up to a total of $260.

But this office had different windows planned when the walls were built. The original windows were installed and then removed and then new ones installed.

The original plan was to
1) Build the walls
2) Install the windows

But some new salvaged windows were found as the project progressed and the project ended up requiring these steps:
1) Build the walls
2) Install the original windows
3) Find different windows and the superintendent figures out how to make them fit
4) Remove the original windows
5) Rebuild the walls to change the size of the opening
6) Install the newer windows

These changes each required about four hours of work by a carpenter that earns $65 per hour. That’s $260 for each unplanned step #3, #4, #5 and #6. Plus an extra trip to the local hardware store to pick up additional materials. That’s over $1,000 in labor to put in a “free” window.

These are rough numbers to demonstrate a point, but it’s close to the actual costs of making changes like these.

You don’t have to shy away from salvaged windows – but try to find those great windows and put them in your garage before the architect even starts designing the home.   If they are always part of the plan, then you will save a lot of expense and do the environment a favor.    The sooner you can find them the better!

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