Council To Decide on ADU Ordinance

November 19, 2015 by Kate Harrington

After more than a year of city-wide conversations about accessory dwelling units (ADUs) – sometimes also called granny flats – City Council looks likely to vote on a third and final reading of an ordinance this week that would make is easier for Austin homeowners to build backyard cottages.

While there has been some opposition to ADUs, mostly from neighborhood associations in Central Austin, there’s also been a huge outpouring of support from Austin groups that see ADUs as a path to better affordability.

Austin already has some ADUs, but most were built a decade or more ago. Since 2007, only 230 ADUs have been permitted and built in Austin. The City’s complex land development code and strict requirements have made it difficult to build more, says the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA).

ADU under construction in Austin
An accessory dwelling unit (ADU) is under construction in an East Austin neighborhood

Opponents have worried that ADUs will lead to more short-term rentals and that they will mean more cars parked on already crowded streets.

“Our Neighborhood Conservation Combining Districts (NCCD)… allow two-family use on lots at least 7,000 square feet with standard city parking requirements (currently three spaces for two-family use in the urban core, or four spaces elsewhere.),” wrote Karen McGraw in an opinion piece published last October on the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association website. “Since two of the required parking spaces may be “tandem” or stacked in a driveway, we already have extra cars on the street for many existing dwellings. Waiving all parking requirements for these new units will only add more cars to our streets.”

In regards to parking, there is an on-street parking requirement, but it calls for one space for a secondary unit.

As far as short-term rentals go, the current ordinance dictates that an ADU “may not be used as a short-term rental for more than 30 days in a calendar year if the second dwelling was constructed after Oct. 1, 2015.”

Many supporters gathered on Nov. 17, two days ahead of a Council vote, for a rally and press conference reiterating support for the ordinance. Transportation and land use advocacy group AURA, Friends of Austin Neighborhoods (FAN), and RECA are among those urging Council to pass the ordinance.

“Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) address affordability by providing homeowners with additional income in order to help them offset their increasing property taxes, provides renters the opportunity to live in a neighborhood community, provides more housing options at a time when Austin is struggling with the lack of housing choices and diversity in our central Austin neighborhoods, and fits in with the existing character of our Austin neighborhoods,” FAN wrote in a resolution.

AURA has also released a detailed report recommending code amendments and new programs that would make it easier to build ADUs.

“Both homeowners and renters can benefit from this common-sense approach to neighborhood density,” said AURA Board member Amy Hartman. “Granny flats can help provide more tax revenue for the city while reducing the tax burden for individuals. With simpler granny flat rules, more low-income families could afford to stay in Austin.”

Keep following BuildingATX for more on the latest Council action around this issue.

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Written by Kate Harrington

Kate is a former reporter, most recently for the Austin Business Journal, where she covered real estate, economic development and transportation. Since 2010 she has been running Thumbtack Communications. Thumbtack provides writing, editing and marketing services. Before moving to Austin in 2002 Kate lived in her native New England, which she still visits often to escape the Texas heat.