It Came from the Backyard - Page 2

With more ADU dwellings on the way—what lies ahead for the character and livability of mid-century modern neighborhoods?
Two views of an MCM-inspired ADU project in San Carlos by Klopf Architecture. The design includes an accessible bathroom and fold-out bed for when the owners' parents visit.

Threat of four-unit projects

Still, even some backers of accessible dwelling units worry about the impact of other density-building measures.

Sure, California needs more housing, says Greg Knell, Eichler owner and longtime community leader in the Eichler neighborhood of Terra Linda in Marin County. But how can a neighborhood of single-family Eichler homes, where neighbors care about privacy, neighborliness, and architectural character, survive under an onslaught of four-unit projects?

"If it happens with four lots on a block, that would destroy the neighborhood," he says.

Knell well understands the appeal of accessory dwelling units. He and his wife added one to their property nearly two decades ago.

"ADUs are not a problem. ADUs are welcome," Knell says. "ADUs allow people to keep their homes as they become empty nesters. It allows them to stay in place by providing income to pay mortgages."

"The real problem is SB 9, the senate bill that repeals [single-family] zoning. This is a real threat to Eichlers," he says. "It was written for developers to get access to single-family properties. Now it's legal to do lot splits by ministerial decision—that means without planning or design board review—and put four homes on a single lot."

"The idea is that they're supposed to create affordable homes, but [the law] doesn't do that because the [Eichler] neighborhoods are popular, and developers don't want to build affordable homes," Knell says. "They want to build expensive ones."

Concept illustration shows an ADU design by Klopf Architecture for a side yard of a Gavello home (designed by Anshen and Allen) in Sunnyvale. "This ADU was designed to be compatible with the existing main house, including the roof slope, beam pattern, height, and glazing strategies," says John Klopf.

In the spirit of Joe Eichler?

Not every Eichler owner shares Knell's fears. Many welcome the move towards greater density and say it can be done sensitively, without destroying the neighborhood values Eichler owners cherish.

Indeed, some say the push for social and racial equity that is implicit in this move towards opening the suburbs is very much in the spirit of Joe Eichler, a political progressive who won fame for selling to Black people and other minorities when most developers would not.

"I am aware of the need to provide housing in more units at increased density, and different unit types," says Sally Zarnowitz, who lives in the Fairglen Eichler neighborhood in San Jose.

"As an architect, I know the importance of innovative design, and Joe Eichler hired innovative architects," she says. "You can accommodate additions to houses and to neighborhoods without compromising the original architecture. That would be the ideal."

Exterior of a built Sonoma ADU designed by Klopf "with maximum privacy and minimum impact to the neighborhood," says the architect.

Yes, there could be less parking in days ahead, Zarnowitz says, adding, "There are different modes of transportation, more transit, and making neighborhoods more walkable.

"There can be access to bus passes. Shared vehicles. We're all going to have to adjust and accommodate. I think that's very consistent with Joe Eichler. He was looking for innovative ways to allow everybody access to housing. We want to be part of that."

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