Will Mini-Eichlers Be a Boon or a Bane?

San Carlos ADU
An MCM-inspired ADU project in San Carlos by Klopf Architecture. Photo by Mariko Reed - courtesy of Klopf Architecture

Is there a mini-Eichler in your future? Whether it’s a small housing unit you build for family or for rental income, or a structure your neighbor builds alongside your lot, an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) could soon be a neighbor. Read about the benefits and risks involved with ADUs in modern neighborhoods in ‘It Came from the Backyard,’ in the new fall 2022 issue of CA-Modern magazine.

To Ken Cashion, it is a thing of beauty and of kindness, the brand-new mini-Eichler in the backyard of his Eichler home. “We’re building an ADU in the style of our Eichler,” says Ken, who lives in Castro Valley.

Ken says he and his wife, Cindy Chadwick, are adding an ADU to provide housing for people who could not otherwise afford to live in the area. “My wife and I are excited about the idea of having more people around,” he says. “We’ve embraced the idea of more communal living."

Matt Garcia ADU
A newly built ADU, looking quite modern with lots of glass, by Matt Garcia Design, based in Austin, Texas. Photo courtesy of Matt Garcia Design

Providing more housing is the main reason for new state laws that encourage the construction of accessory units, and other new state laws that provide for splitting single-family home lots into lots that can provide two units – or, in some cases, four units.

These laws promise significant changes for the better: more housing for our growing populace; more afford­able housing; lessening the inherent elitism of suburbs filled with nothing but high-priced homes; and making up, somewhat rather late in the game, for the injustices of segregation.

But the laws also present potential problems. With greater density, will parking be a problem? Can new units be built without destroying a neighborhood’s architectural and historical character?

And will some Eichlers be torn down to make way for multiple-unit properties?

Time will tell. But in the meantime, at least a handful of people in Eichler neighborhoods are taking advantage of the new laws. In the fall '22 CA-Modern, a related story, ‘Tips for building a successful ADU,’ can help homeowners decide whether, and how, to go about it.

Castro Valley ADU
The Castro Valley ADU of Eichler owners Ken Cashion and Cindy Chadwick. Photo by Rory Earnshaw

Building an ADU is not inexpensive. Architect Curt Cline, of San Francisco-based Modern House Architects, estimates ADU building costs in the Bay Area to be in the $500-550 per square foot range.

“The important first step ought to be identifying what your goals are for the ADU,” points out architect John Klopf, of Klopf Architecture, also based in San Francisco, who has numerous built ADUs in Northern California to his credit.

An ADU can be a space for family to visit, out-of-town guests to stay, a future caregiver to live, or a tenant rental, he notes.

Thomas Westfall, a realtor, is putting in an ADU behind his own Castro Valley home by converting an existing freestanding building, which was built by the home’s former owner, a contractor, as his work­shop. It was built in the Eichler style.

“I think the ADU is an amazing opportunity to maximize the value and utility of your property. The idea of an expanded family is in vogue, much more popular these days,” he says.

Sonoma ADU
Inside a built Sonoma ADU designed by Klopf Architecture “with maximum privacy and minimum impact to the neighborhood,” says the architect. Photo courtesy of Klopf Architecture

Additional housing units on compact Eichler lots do, of course, present challenges to privacy and neighborhood integrity. Will the new unit be two stories? Will it have windows that allow residents to look through your glass walls and into your home?

Mark Neely, who heads the architectural review committee in the Eichler tract of Upper Lucas Valley in Marin, believe that with proper planning, Eichler and other modern neighborhoods could accommodate accessory units with little damage.

“Housing needs are great,” he says. Some of the homeowner association rules will have to change due to new state man­dates, he says, adding, “It’s just finding a way of balancing how we provide hous­ing and how we maintain neighbors’ privacy and design.

Greg Knell, a longtime community leader in the Terra Linda Eichler tract in Marin, says ADUs are not the problem. Indeed, his property has one. It has been a longtime rental.

  Backyard Eichler ADU
For some, one-room structures (like this one from Backyard Eichler of Marin) may be big enough to satisfy their needs. Photo courtesy of Backyard Eichler

But he is worried that new laws that allow for two or, at times, four homes to fill a former single-family lot could destroy the feeling of a neighborhood, and hurt its livability.

Sally Zarnowitz, who lives in the San Jose neighborhood of Fairglen and helped put her neighborhood onto the National Register of Historic Places, says that adapting neighborhoods to changing times fits the progressive spirit of Joe Eichler himself.

“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.”

Learn more about the controversial ADU issue by reading ‘It Came from the Backyard,’ in the fall 2022 CA-Modern magazine.

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