Salt Lake City greenlights more ADUs

Dubbed the “lightning rod problem,” the new regulation aims to entice more residents and businesses to build additional housing units. Will the transition promote affordable housing?

(Courtesy of the Salt Lake City Planning Department). New secondary housing units — like this backyard unit in Salt Lake City — are being viewed as a way to alleviate Utah’s housing shortage.

Salt Lake City leaders on Tuesday pledged support for renters and homeowners alike as they approved a hard-fought series of reforms designed to encourage more secondary housing.

As Utah’s capital seeks to close a deficit of at least 5,500 affordable housing, the city council voted to test its latest approach to ADUs for three years by streamlining city assessments and giving homeowners and businesses more leeway on size, height, lot location, and Parking Lots gave requirements for add-on houses that they are allowed to build.

In the most controversial part of the overhaul, the council also voted unanimously to retain a citywide owner-occupancy rule, meaning homeowners must reside in either the ADU or the primary residence.

“We need all the housing we can get,” said Councilor Alejandro Puy, who was among those who opposed the rule as too restrictive but supported the compromise nonetheless.

“I still see a conflict in that,” Puy said, “but I appreciate the work we’ve done.”

Few policy changes at City Hall in recent years have sparked so much debate, exposing divisions between existing residents and newcomers, east and west sides, and owners and tenants.

“Everyone on this council understands and welcomes renters to Salt Lake City,” said council member Chris Wharton, calling the ordinance “a lightning rod issue” among residents.

“Not everyone will be able to buy a single family home. Maybe they don’t want that, or maybe they choose to rent,” Wharton said. “All of these people, all of the above and more, all must have a welcome place in our city.”

The idea of ​​property owners being given special privileges in the city, Councilor Victoria Petro said, “is a fallacy that cannot and will not be tolerated by us.”

Hoping to create more living space

For residents looking to build these tiny homes, ADUs are now officially a permitted land use, meaning applications at City Hall no longer require a planning commission hearing — although they still require building permits. State law already permits internal ADUs in residential areas, so this regulation affects external households.

Freestanding ADUs can now be up to 1,000 square feet, a size considered suitable for more than one bedroom. Backyard setback rules have been relaxed. The city’s minimum requirement of one off-street parking space per dwelling is also waived near bike paths or transit lines, or when there is ample space for on-street parking in front of the primary residence.

The approved reforms will pump $1 million in financial support for those who want to build these units, which include garage studios, backyard homes and granny flats. Two civilian law enforcement officers will be hired to ensure new ADUs are not illegally used as short-term rentals on sites like Airbnb.

The ordinance is the first major change to the city’s ADU policy since 2018, and also gives adversely affected neighbors the right to enforce short-term rent bans under restrictive agreements in court — and recover legal costs if they prevail.

Heated debate about short-term rentals

The growing phenomenon of short-term rentals has in many ways dominated this recent debate amid concerns that the ADU concessions could encourage more developers to buy up older homes and demolish them to build new, less affordable homes with add-ons.

On the other hand, council leader Darin Mano and others said the rule created unwanted barriers to construction by restricting landowners’ options. The council once considered restricting self-occupancy to some of the city’s least densely populated neighborhoods, but members ultimately agreed to Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s call for the rule to remain city-wide.

“I agree that we probably didn’t get everything we wanted,” Mano told his colleagues as they prepared for the vote. “But overall this is a huge step forward.”

A pro-housing group called SLC Neighbors for More Neighbors said on Wednesday the council’s vote was “a victory” and a confirmation that ADUs are vital to the city’s housing goals – but added that they, too, are disappointed with the owner-occupancy requirement may be .

“We appreciate the Council’s commitment to revisit the issue in three years,” the group said in a statement. It also called on the city to create pre-approved ADU designs for residents, allow ADUs to be sold separately from primary residences, and implement “a sustainable, long-term financing program” to fund more units.

In its latest motion, the council agreed to revise the ordinance after three years instead of five, along with increased data collection by city planners on ADU trends. Salt Lake City greenlights more ADUs

Justin Scaccy

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