Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are all in the news these day in urbanist circles. Many cities have enacted legislation to make them legal. Why would one want ADUs? Here are two reports from very different points of view that cover the waterfront on the value of ADUs: The Brookings Institute report and the R Street Institute policy study both which are worth a read, especially if you’re looking to convince local leaders that they should be permitted and prioritized in your town.
Technically, these are not currently legal in the City of Annapolis but as many know, there are a lot of “off book” apartments that are essentially ADUs. I have friends who have lived in them so I know they exist. So Annapolis has taken a first step at ADU legislation. which attempts to legalize them. Implementation is all over the place such as in Lexington KY or other places I’ve looked at that are more or less similar to Annapolis such as Northhamption MA, Santa Cruz CA, an Vancouver WA. There are many ordinances beyond these that are available at accessorydwellings.org.
In reviewing the proposed legislation as a member of the Planning Commission, we identified a number of issues, the most problematic is the way it’s written. Also, the commission is seven members of which I am only one and the views on ADUs are as all over the place as implementations. I felt it important to share my personal views of ADUs as they do differ from the Commission Members and a few vocal members of the public. As such, I submitted the following comment to the City Council at the virtual public hearing on 4/14/2020.
5/20/2020 Update after the City Council meeting on 4/27 to which a conversation about this happened on Facebook with Jim Conlon (discussion here). In the testimony below with respect to the possible number of ADUs, I speculated that it would be more like a few percent than 34%. Jim questioned my assumptions and wanted to know my data sources. Here is what I wrote:
Obviously a guess based on what is happening elsewhere. If you look at Portland, arguably a very progressive place for this idea (ie a “worst case” in your view): they have ADUs on <2% of their single family lots (2900/155,000).
Dear Members of the City Council-
As you have no doubt read, the Planning Commission submitted their findings and recommendations on O-39-19 Accessory Dwelling Units. While I authored much of that report with significant input from other Commission members and from testimony by several members of the public, I want to share my personal opinions on this legislation specifically and ADUs in general.
First, with respect to this specific legislation, it is very badly written. It is too technically complex to the point of being unintelligible. While it is ultimately the decision of the City Council to approve rules for ADUs – no doubt with some kind of consensus public input – It needs to be rewritten in plain English with clear and precise rules that citizens and builders can understand. My recommendation is the existing legislation be withdrawn and new legislation be created using examples of successful ADU ordinances, of course tailored to any specific local sensitivities.
Second, with respect to ADUs in general I believe many of the arguments made against them are being used as “scare tactics” to prevent this legislation going forward.
Much of the concern about this legislation being a defacto “upzoing” of the entire city is hyperbole. While Planning and Zoning issued a table indicating that 34% of the lots in single family zones technically meet the requirements of O-39-19, this is an extremely idealized situation that does not take into account the existing environment, i.e. it assumed no existing structures. I understand why this assumption was made because that is the only data available, however it is a very poor assumption given the mature nature of the lots in most of the city. Based on other locations in the country that have enacted ADU legislation, it is more likely something closer to a few percent of property owners that would avail themselves of an ADU.
There has been a lot of talk about “resiliency” in Annapolis planning circles for a number of years. Resiliency doesn’t just refer to the environment, but in general about how flexible the city is to changes in the economy, consumer tastes, or any other unforeseen variable. The more restrictive the rules we put in place, the less resilient. This legislation was billed primarily as an “affordable housing” tool. While that is a laudable goal, it is not the only value of and ADU. ADUs are flexible and can have different uses over time depending on the needs of the resident property owner: from personal uses such as a playroom for kids, a home office, separate housing for adult family members to supplementing income as a long or short term rental. The later provides an income stream that could bring homeownership within reach of someone who might not otherwise be able to afford it. In other words ADUs provide resiliency.
Finally, I do agree wholeheartedly with the Planning Commission’s recommendations on “Grandfathering”, maximum size and proof of residency.
As I said in closing my 2019 Ignite talk, we shouldn’t use regulations to prevent *any* change because in the end if we do, we will end up getting very large disruptive changes, exactly what was being fought against.
Best Regards, Alex Pline