New Proposals Addressing Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Limits and House Size Limits/Floor Area Ratio (FAR)

July and August City Council discussions will consider Planning Commission recommendations addressing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Home Size Restrictions (Floor Area Ratio) Limits

This July and August, the City Council will consider home size restrictions and accessory dwelling unit limits. These newly updated proposed regulations respond to past City Council discussions and concerns from the community about potential incompatibility of large homes with neighborhood character, privacy and the size of second-story accessory dwelling units.

Learn more about these updated proposals, including Floor Area Ratio (FAR) limit options, limiting house sizes citywide, and new zoning rules for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) including proposed privacy standards and reducing second story ADUs over detached garages. A longer term initiative underway are developing Residential Design Guidelines and community outreach will begin this summer.

The City is seeking community input at upcoming City Council meetings about these policy decisions under consideration. This blog provides a summary of the three policy discussions taking place and ways the community can provide input.


On July 22, the City Council approved proposed amendments to the Zoning Ordinance for ADUs with modifications. The vote is a part of the City’s phased approach to protect affordability and architecture standards in Redwood City neighborhoods.

Modifications include:

· No more than 576 sq. ft. of accessory dwelling unit shall be constructed over a detached garage.
· Second story maximum height of 20 feet with discretion of the Zoning Administrator to accommodate extra height for roof pitch in order to complement the architecture of a home.

Phased Approach To Review

Based on recent community input, Planning Commission concerns, and the City Council comments at July and November 2018 Study Sessions, staff is working on policies related to neighborhood compatibility and the design review process for second-story additions and two-story single-family homes. The three-phase strategy is outlined below:

Immediate (completed): Guiding Principles on the Neighborhood Character Finding. Status: Council adopted the Guiding Principles on December 3, 2018

Short-Term: Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Amendments creating additional height limitation for ADUs with privacy provisions for exterior balconies and windows. Status: Staff is presenting Planning Commission recommendations for City Council consideration on July 22.

Short-Term: Floor Area Ratio (FAR) Threshold Interim Ordinance requiring Planning Commission review and action if a home size exceeds an established size threshold. Status: Staff is presenting Planning Commission recommendations for Council consideration on August 26.

Long-Term: Residential Design Guidelines and Additional Zoning Regulations for second-story additions and new two-story single-family homes. Status: The City has hired a consultant to assist staff in the community outreach and preparation of residential design guidelines and has initiated the yearlong study. Community outreach will begin this summer (2019).

Proposed Changes to the Accessory Dwelling Unit Requirements Setting Limits on Detached Garage Heights and other Privacy Standards

On Tuesday June 18, the Planning Commission recommended that the City Council consider adopting new Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADUs) requirements intended to reduce privacy and other impacts of detached second story ADUs to incentivize single-story ADU construction.

The Planning Commission recommendations include requirements to limit a second story ADUs above a detached garage to 280 square feet, and reduce maximum height of a detached, second story ADU to 20-feet. In addition, second floor balconies, and roof decks would be prohibited. Exterior stairs would be required to face the interior of a lot, rather than the sides or rear. Windows facing immediately adjacent side and rear neighbors would be required to be higher on the wall and cloudy. Incentives for one-story ADUs include reducing the rear yard setback to 6 ft., allowing ADUs to replace detached garages, and increasing the size of ADA compliant units to 1,000 sq. ft.

The City Council is scheduled to consider the Planning Commission recommendations at their meeting on July 22.

For more details about the City’s ADU requirements, go here.

For the City Council meeting agendas, go here.

For Planning Commission meetings and materials, go here.

Proposed Home Size Restrictions-Floor Area Ratio for Single-Family Homes

On Tuesday, June 18 the Planning Commission recommended that the City Council adopt home size restrictions for City Council consideration. The recommended restrictions would apply to all single-family home projects, and would set a cap of 40% of the lot area or a house size of 2,500 square feet, whichever is greater. The proposed requirements would apply to single-family dwellings in any zoning district.

Potential exceptions to what is included in the calculation of floor area, could include garages, basements that are fully below grade, detached structures including Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and architectural features like bay windows, unenclosed decks, front porches, and balconies, etc.

Under this proposal, homes that are already over the recommended home size limit would not have any ability to do any project even for small additions like a bathroom, extending a bedroom, or extending a kitchen under this new proposal.

The City Council will consider these restrictions at their August 26 meeting.

Based on the new proposal, home limit impacts could potentially be seen in the following neighborhoods:

What does this proposal mean?

Floor Area Ratio is the ratio of the total building size in proportion to the lot size. The total covered area of all floors of a single-family home which includes attached garages, measured to the outside of stud walls. A limit as outlined above on house size would mean that home owners already above the proposed established restriction, would not be able to expand their home outside of the specific exemptions listed.

For the Planning Commission staff report, go here.

Residential Design Guidelines Process Underway this Summer

The City has hired a consultant to assist staff in the community outreach and preparation of residential design guidelines and has initiated the yearlong study. Community outreach will begin this summer and staff expects to bring back recommendations for City Council consideration in early 2020.

For more about the Residential Design Guidelines process, go here.

Ways to Provide Input

There are several ways the community can share feedback.

Attend an upcoming City Council meeting and share your input.

Watch the meetings online. City Council meetings are televised live to Redwood City residents on Astound Broadband cable Channel 26 and Comcast cable Channel 27, AT&T U-verse Channel 99, and are streamed live as well as archived on the web. To access City Council meeting details and materials, go here.

For written comments to the planning department, email

For written comments to the City Council, email or go here.

City of Redwood City

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