Monday, May 4, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

ADUs headed back to Codes and Ordinances

After nearly three hours of discussion Tuesday, the city’s Planning Commission opted to send a proposed Accessory Dwelling Unit, or ADU, code amendment back to its Codes and Ordinances subcommittee for a second time.

Almost one year ago, City Council approved a resolution to create an Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance designed to make it easier to build ADUs that are 500 square feet or less.

Since then, the issue has been in subcommittee, where commissioners and stakeholders have taken a closer look at the topic.

Commissioners modified staff’s recommendation. They added an opt-out process for neighborhoods, prohibited Type II and Type III short-term rentals and recommended that ADUs have submetering for utilities. Commissioners also proposed that existing ADUs that do not have a parking minimum be grandfathered and removed a provision that would require high windows on second-story walls within 10 feet of a lot line.

Those changes were not enough for the majority of the commission. The new proposal failed in a vote of 3-5. Only Commissioners Stephen Oliver, Alfonso Hernandez and James Nortey voted in favor of moving the ordinance and conditions on to Council.

Commissioner Jean Stevens said she was concerned that the final proposal did not reflect community or commission input.

“I don’t see a lot of change,” said Stevens. “I don’t think it speaks nearly enough to a lot of the negativity.”

Parking, and parking requirements, took up the bulk of the conversation. According to the new ordinance, ADUs that are under 550 square feet will not have required parking. A staff recommendation to apply the code amendments citywide also proved controversial. Several residents urged commissioners to allow neighborhoods to have the option to “opt in” or “opt out” of the changes.

Commissioners also debated whether the new units would increase affordability in the city.

Stevens said the units were a way to make money off properties, but worried that they would not increase affordability. She asked Planning and Zoning staffer Ming Chu to guarantee that ADUs not be used as short-term rentals.

Chu said she could not do that and further explained the type of affordability the units could offer, saying, “I don’t think we have any illusions that these units are going to be for (renters with) very low incomes. They’ve always been talked about as being market-rate affordable.”

Hernandez said that although he doubted the commission could get good data on affordability, it was important to “attack affordability with whatever options we get.” He spoke in favor of ADUs in that context.

As currently proposed, the code changes would also reduce the building separation to 10 feet, allow an entrance within 10 feet of a property line and remove a driveway-placement requirement.

Bonnie and Clyde Garage Apartment” by AbeEzekowitzOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

accessory dwelling units: This term refers to smaller, secondary units built on the property of a primary residence. Also known as ADUs, mother-in-law suites, granny flats, or garden apartments, among other things.

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

CoA Planning Commission Codes & Ordinances Committee: A sub-committee charged with reviewing land use code amendments.

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