Petaluma introduces an ordinance on the design of housing “suitable for the elderly”

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Petaluma residents and planning commissioners offered an outpouring of support Tuesday as city officials unveiled an ordinance that would require all newly approved housing to be designed to give residents with reduced mobility easy access to their own homes and to those they visit.

The first draft of the visitability code was presented at the Petaluma Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday night and, if ultimately passed by city council, would amend Petaluma’s city code to create a universal design rule. of housing that would make residences more “visitable” and meet a wide range of needs, with officials emphasizing the needs of older residents. Such a change would include wider doorways and more space in bathrooms, kitchens and common areas to allow residents to move around more freely and comfortably, especially if they use wheelchairs.

“This is a public health issue – aging in place, aging in place safely and hopefully affordably,” Commissioner Scott Alonso said. “So I think that’s a big step.”

The draft order comes as the Petaluma Housing Unit reported that more than 5,100 Petaluma residents have at least one disability and approximately 47% of the city’s older residents have physical conditions that can affect their ability to live independently.

In early 2020, Petaluma became the second town in Sonoma County to commit to becoming “age-friendly” when it joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities. And in April 2021, the city council adopted priorities to develop programs by 2023.

Anthony Tusler is a Penngrove resident who uses a wheelchair. He said he couldn’t find a house in Petaluma because none of the available houses he was considering were wheelchair friendly.

“I’m really excited about this order,” Tussler said at the meeting. “It’s way beyond anything I could have imagined. I’m so glad Petaluma is leading the way. Looking at it through the lens of ‘senior friendliness’ is really a great way to go.”

In buildings with four units or less, including single-family homes, all new construction should be designed to meet requirements as visitable housing. For development of residential buildings of five or more units, such as multi-story apartment complexes, the ordinance would require that 30% of units be designed to meet universal visitability requirements.

Although there were concerns about whether exemptions to the ordinance would come into play when landlords apply for a housing development, a resident named Paul questioned the move when many seniors could choose to live elsewhere at retirement age.

But the commissioners have countered that claim. Commissioner Blake Hooper noted that many residents he has interacted with have actually expressed great interest in staying at Petaluma throughout their lives. At the same time, Hooper said he expressed concerns that make the order necessary.

“I’ve actually spoken to a lot of people in this town and there’s a lot of concern about aging in place,” said Hooper, who is also a candidate for Sonoma County Supervisor. “There’s a lot of concern about how they’re going to stay here, how they’re going to deal with life, really just getting to their own home safely.”

According to the Ordinance Project staff report, the cost increase to incorporate visitability elements into the design and construction of new housing is considered to be relatively minimal.

Amelia Parreira is an editor for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at [email protected] or 707-521-5208.

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