ADUs are being added in basements, behind homes, above garages

Since officials approved the latest rules allowing accessory dwelling units, homeowners from across Salt Lake City have shown a willingness to add these forms of housing.

Dozens of units have been tucked into backyards, above garages and within homes.

On Wednesday night, the Planning Commission approved three more ADUs. Which should be no surprise: The commission has never rejected a request by a homeowner to build a new ADU since the ordinance was passed in 2018.

The approvals continue the ongoing pattern of homeowners slipping new housing units onto their properties since the new law was passed.

“At the beginning of 2021, we had a total of 47 building permits for ADUs,” Planning Director Nick Norris told us last month. “In 2021, we have had a total of 61 new building permits for ADU for a total of 108 total ADU building permits in the past three years.”

Of those, 16 were withdrawn, 34 are incomplete and waiting for more info, 11 are under review and 17 are under construction. Thirty have been completed.

The numbers are preliminary, and Norris’s staff will give an official update likely within the coming weeks.

What’s clear, though, is that homeowners are busy adding to the housing stock in the capital city. That’s 30 new homes that are largely unseen by neighbors. They’re being added in every City Council district. They’re being built despite high material and labor costs.

“The increase in building permits (nearly double even with the withdrawn applications) is certainly encouraging, despite the fluctuating cost of building materials,” Norris said.

There are certain setback and building requirements, and owners or their family members must either live within the ADU or the primary home. In addition to those and other requirements, ADUs are either a permitted or a conditional use within city limits.

They can be built if the primary home’s zoning allows for multiple units on a single lot, such as FB-UN1, RMF, R-2, etc. They are conditional if a homeowner in one of the city’s R-1 districts would like to add one.

Conditional uses require a 45-day public comment period and a trip to the city’s Planning Commission. And while they appear to be popular, ADU applications also take up 70 hours of staff time.

The city could look at saving staff time by making ADUs a permitted use citywide. But an ongoing backlog of important policies at City Hall makes it unlikely for the Planning Division to request such a change.

“We have not asked to initiate a petition to make ADUs a permitted use, primarily due to the existing list of priorities and city initiatives that we are working on or have on work plan for the next year,” Norris said. “ADUs remain one of the more controversial applications that come before the Planning Commission.”

In the meantime, they’ll continue being added heading into 2022. Only after each one takes up two weeks of a staffer’s year.

Figures from February 2021 report. Courtesy of Salt Lake City Planning.

Interested in seeing where developers are proposing and building new apartments in Salt Lake, or just want to support a local source of news on what’s happening in your neighborhood? Learn more about becoming a member.

Posted by Taylor Anderson

Taylor Anderson grew up near Chicago and made his way West to study journalism at the University of Montana. He's been a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, Bend Bulletin and Salt Lake Tribune. A move from Portland, Oregon, to Salt Lake City opened his eyes to the importance of good urban design for building strong neighborhoods. He lives on the border of the Liberty Wells and Ballpark neighborhoods.