City Oks Historic Property ADU Measure

First published in the Jan. 28 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

The craftsman bungalows and Spanish colonial revival homes nestled along quiet, tree-lined streets have made South Pasadena one of the most identifiable cities in Los Angeles. Residents and film crews alike have been drawn to its charm.
“The built environment in any place is what gives it its character,” Mark Gallatin, president of the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation, said. “It really is kind of the soul of the community.”
With the city’s latest housing element, a new type of building is being welcomed to South Pasadena’s architectural landscape: the accessory dwelling unit (ADU).
According to South Pasadena’s 2017 Historic Resources Survey, there are 2,718 properties in the city that are identified as eligible contributors to historic districts, with most properties being residential.
Through the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), the state has allocated 2,067 new housing units to be built in South Pasadena in the next eight years. With so much new housing on deck, there’s a good chance that units will be popping up on historic properties in the form of ADUs.
However, Gallatin doesn’t expect the architectural integrity of the city to be compromised. According to him, variations of ADUs have been around for hundreds of years.
“If you look at old building permits from the turn of the 20th century, you’ll see references to things like carriage houses or guest houses,” he said, “essentially describing what we today would think of as an ADU. In other words, a small separate dwelling unit physically apart from the main house.”
The difference between those early variations of accessory housing and the ADUs we know today, according to Gallatin, is consistency of style with the primary dwelling unit.
South Pasadena’s City Council unanimously approved an ordinance last week that features guidelines to ensure that ADUs reflect the style of South Pasadena’s signature architecture, should owners of historic properties choose to build one.
The community development department formed a set of examples with exterior design that historic property owners can abide by when building an ADU. It encourages a simplistic style similar to that of the primary dwelling.
More specific guidelines indicate that ADUs should be at the rear of the property, unless the primary dwelling sits at the rear of the lot. ADUs can also be up to 1,200 square feet and should be subordinate in terms of size to the primary dwelling. With some exceptions, ADUs have height requirements, with one-story buildings expected to be 16 feet tall and two-story buildings 18 feet tall.
The guidelines were developed based partly on input from the community and discussions at joint meetings between the cultural heritage commission and the planning commission so that residents’ values could be considered.
Gallatin, who is also the vice-chair of South Pasadena’s cultural heritage commission, sees it as one of many attempts by the city to preserve architectural character. The Historic Preservation Ordinance passed in 1992, the Historic Resources Survey and the creation of the cultural heritage commission have all played major roles as well.
“The fact that we have done such a fine job in South Pasadena of preserving our built environment, preserving our historic character,” he said, “it didn’t happen by accident.”