Salt Lake City is wrestling with ways to encourage more small homes

Salt Lake City’s recent attempt to encourage more residents to build additional housing to ease a housing crisis is coming into focus.

The city council was overheard by the public on Tuesday about new proposals to expand where and how to build smaller outbuildings like backyard houses and granny flats, and to cut red tape to simplify the process.

The design changes for secondary housing units, or ADUs, are now being tentatively set for final approval on February 21 – with much consensus still to come.

“I just want to put this out there for the public, which we’re still debating a great deal,” said council leader Darin Mano, “and still trying to see where we end up.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) One of Modal Living’s “small but elegant” guesthouses or additional living units on display at City Creek Center in 2019.

The planned overhaul comes as Utah’s capital faces an acute shortage of homes of all types, a gap made worse by pandemic-driven demand and recent spurts in growth. Additionally, the city’s existing regulations on ADUs haven’t produced as many new homes as people at City Hall had hoped.

Council members and Mayor Erin Mendenhall have made it clear that they see removing barriers and streamlining the path for more small homes in a wider range of neighborhoods and commercial areas as a critical step.

(Salt Lake City planning) Additional housing units would be allowed in a much larger area of ​​Salt Lake City under a new ordinance now before the City Council.

They also appear to be agreeing to scrap the city’s current rule that the planning commission must review each ADU before it is built. This would automatically allow these units as land uses in residential areas, most commercial areas and locations that already allow for mixed use – although homeowners and businesses would still need building permits.

But council members are clarifying other differences over the new ADU regulation, which has been in the works for more than a year.

Their recent arguments have focused on how large and tall units can be, exceptions to a per-unit off-street parking requirement, and whether homeowners must guarantee they will live on-site in order to build an ADU.

Park rules are a big sticking point

A Straw poll on Tuesday found they’re almost evenly split when it comes to making ADUs up to 1,000 square feet, with some saying that’s too big for many neighborhoods and others claiming it’s essential in order to do so new ADUs can accommodate multiple bedrooms better suited to residential families.

Parking concerns have similarly shattered the council.

This side of the debate reflects the difficulty of creating a single set of rules that works for older and denser neighborhoods where homes often lack driveways and may have more in other areas where on-street parking is available, such as B. in Central City near Liberty Park, in the Sugar House and on the West Side.

Councilor Dan Dugan, whose district covers parts of the East Bank, said he wants to keep the requirement that ADUs include off-street parking — even if they’re near mass transit and bike lanes. Colleague Chris Wharton, who represents neighborhoods in Avenues, Guadalupe and Marmalade, and Amy Fowler, whose district covers much of Sugar House, said they are tipping in the same direction.

Before effectively discouraging cars with more limited street parking, Dugan said, “We want to make sure we have a robust public transit system city-wide — and we don’t.” We’re not there yet.”

Others, including Councilor Ana Valdemoros, whose district straddles downtown, said they had less patience with the idea of ​​framing the regulation around the needs of car owners, rather than bringing in much-needed housing units.

Councilor Victoria Petro, representing parts of the West Side, noted that the data shows most of the city’s homeowners who are interested and able to build ADUs live near Liberty Park, where parking is less likely to be a problem.

“I don’t need my own parking space,” Petro said. “On-street parking is fine for ADUs.”

Should owners be required to live on site?

Deep concerns remain among council members and the public that without an owner-occupation requirement, a large number of new ADUs listed on sites such as Airbnb and Vrbo could be used as short-term rentals, without bringing much benefit to local residents who need affordable homes.

“I’m nervous,” Westside councilor Alejandro Puy said, “because I don’t want all these ADUs to be used by a lot of extra-state companies buying them and removing them from our housing.”

Wharton and others said ensuring that owners live in the main residence — or the ADU — would make them more responsive to neighborhood concerns and discourage absentee landlords. On the other hand, Mano and several members of the public said they fear the restriction will discourage large numbers of homeowners from building ADUs in the first place.

Leaders from several advocacy groups, including Turner Bitton with an organization called SLC Neighbors for More Neighbors, said the scrapping of the rule gave a big boost to ADU construction in many California cities.

Eric Valchuis, a consultant and researcher who has studied the impact and funding of ADUs, warned that the requirement would also make tenants more vulnerable to eviction if the homeowner moves.

He noted that a separate city study called “Thriving in Place” found that rising rents and a lack of affordable housing are already crowding out large numbers of renters, particularly low-income families and people of color.

This could possibly be made worse by the restrictions on personal use, said Valchuis, “seems kind of crazy to me”.

Eastsider Koby Elias called the rule “an enormous challenge to the practical reality of building an ADU. What if you move? What if you have a family? Do you have to evict a tenant?” Salt Lake City is wrestling with ways to encourage more small homes

Justin Scaccy

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