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Council to consider new ADU policies, ditch preapproved blueprints

Friday, June 3, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

City Council shifted priorities this week on policies related to accessory dwelling units, with members showing little interest in creating preapproved ADU blueprints and instead considering a new measure aimed at making ADUs easier to build. 

At Tuesday’s Housing and Planning Committee, members soured on preapproved ADU plans – an idea floated for years to make ADUs more attainable – after city staffers explained that a seemingly simple solution in theory proves complicated in practice. 

For one, said Brent Lloyd with the Development Services Department, complex regulations stand in the way. He pointed to the McMansion ordinance, which “requires determining whether a structure fits within a tent that’s based on the geometry of the site,” as particularly troublesome.

“Even if ADU plans are designated preapproved, unless Council would be prepared to potentially waive or modify some of the site-specific regulations with regards to McMansion, it would be quite likely that, in many cases, an applicant would come forward with preapproved plans and they ultimately couldn’t actually be approved,” Lloyd said. He also mentioned floor area ratio and tree regulations as additional constraints.

What’s more, rolling out the preapproved plans would take two to three years. Staffers said they would have to follow several steps, each consuming months and hundreds of hours of staff time:

Lloyd said while “those numbers seem high” they are “actually fairly conservative.” A large chunk of the work – and “a really important part of the process” – would include soliciting feedback from community members on the designs. “If ADU plans are going to be preapproved, and that is then going to be a predominant mode of ADU construction in a community, people are going to want input on that. People are going to want to know, what are these going to look like?”

Amid concerns over staff time, regulatory barriers and lackluster results from cities that adopted similar programs, Council’s interest waned.

“I came to the conclusion that probably this was not necessarily going to be our most impactful change that we can make to the ADU program,” said Tovo, who authored two resolutions on preapproved plans. Tovo confirmed to the Austin Monitor that she no longer intends to pursue the strategy, and other Council members have not shown any interest.

As Council tables preapproved plans, a resolution aimed at removing barriers to ADU construction comes before Council on June 9. The resolution, authored by Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, initiates multiple changes to city code, including removing parking requirements for ADUs within a quarter-mile of transit lines and Imagine Austin centers, allowing ADUs as a primary use as well as an accessory use, and modifying or removing development rules that prevent ADU construction.

Additional ADU policies are working their way through city government. Two changes – legalizing attached and internal ADUs (aka granny flats) and allowing ADUs in Single Family-Large Lot (SF-1) and Single Family-Standard Lot (SF-2) zones if the primary residence is preserved – are scheduled to return to Council this fall for adoption, according to Tovo. 

Based on Council’s direction, Lloyd said his team hopes to conduct a full review of barriers to ADU construction in the coming months. “It’s our hope that we will be bringing forward a set of proposed code changes that holistically look at all the obstacles,” Lloyd said.

Photo by Sightline Institute, licensed under a CC 4.0 International License.

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