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Committee loosens requirements for ADUs

Tuesday, May 26, 2015 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

Members of the Committee on Codes and Ordinances voted Tuesday to make it easier for residents to build accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. The ordinance, approved on a unanimous vote, does away with many of the parking provisions some said were inhibitive. Committee members Stephen Oliver and Jean Stevens were absent.

The ordinance eliminates a provision requiring second dwellings without access to a rear alleyway to have access from a paved driveway. Committee members also removed an item prohibiting front-yard parking for ADU residents.

Although ADU dwellers will no longer need access from a paved driveway, the ordinance will require at least one off-street parking spot (down from two), in hopes of curbing parking congestion on the street. This stipulation now applies to all ADUs regardless of size; a previous version of the ordinance stated that if the ADU was less than 550 square feet, it did not require an off-street parking spot.

While the elimination of most parking regulations seemed like a quick way to simplify the process of building an ADU, committee members discussed the issue of ADUs in certain neighborhoods where street parking is already hard to come by – and where not requiring on-lot parking for second dwellings becomes a problem.

Michael Gatto, founder of the Austin Community Design and Development Center, suggested using walking scores – which indicate a neighborhood’s walkability – to determine where an ADU would be more appropriate.

But committee member Danette Chimenti said that since ADU drivers would now be forced to park on the street, walking scores in certain areas trafficked heavily both by car and foot would not necessarily provide helpful information. Chimenti pointed to her own neighborhood, near South Congress Avenue, as an example.

“There is no parking, but yet there’s lots of places to walk to,” she said. “That would be an area (in which) an ADU would be problematic because we already have parking problems, and yet the walk score there would probably allow for ADUs because there are restaurants and grocery stores you can walk to.”

Gatto cited a study by the University of Texas School of Architecture that determined Austin had roughly 40,000 lots eligible for ADUs.

“Do you believe it is the parking that is going to unlock that potential?” asked committee member Nuria Zaragoza.

Gatto said not necessarily, and that there are more barriers to ensuring that adding an ADU to a property makes sense – for both the neighborhood and homeowner as well as for the ADU dweller.

“Money is certainly an obstacle,” said Gatto. “Going through the development process, like getting a building permit, has been an obstacle.”

While the issue of doing away with ADU parking requirements previously roiled a lot of citizens, the ordinance passed relatively quietly this week.

However, committee members did discuss the possibility of tabling the vote and waiting for the CodeNEXT rewrite of the Land Development Code to address the issue.

Presumably, said Chimenti, CodeNEXT would only revise ADU ordinances further. “We have CodeNEXT coming up, which will hopefully take a holistic view and come up with something that is tailored and works for neighborhoods,” she said. “I’m disconcerted (about) why we’re pushing this through before there is a mechanism to holistically look at it.”

But out of concern that City Council would act on the ordinance without the committee’s recommendation, Chimenti took back her comment. “It sounds like Council is going to act with or without us, and my fear is that (what Council decides) would be worse,” she said. Chimenti urged the committee to take a vote – which it did.

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