City Council explores expanding ADU ordinance

The city’s first ADU under the 2012 ordinance was built on the 800 South block of Jefferson Street. Photo by Isaac Riddle.

It’s been over three years since then-mayor Ralph Becker initiated a petition to amend the city’s requirements for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU), but the proposed amendments are closer to becoming adopted.  After tabling the ADU amendment in January, city staff briefed the Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday of proposed changes to the ADU regulations that would allow for ADUs in more city neighborhoods.

Council members held a work session in January to discuss potential changes to ADU regulation but decided to table the amendment until after the 2017 Utah Legislature Session convened due to potential legislation that could have impacted any existing ADU ordinances.

ADUs refer to secondary residential structures like granny flats and in-law apartments in low and mid-density residential neighborhoods.

The city adopted the current ADU ordinance in 2012.  The current ordinance allows for ADUs on single family parcels within one-half mile from a fixed transit station.

“I look at this as part of our broader housing conversation,” said Councilmember Derek Kitchen. “With a 2 percent vacancy rate in Salt Lake and skyrocketing housing prices.  This is clearly a basic problem of supply and demand economics.  The justification for ADUs is to add more housing stock to our market.”

During the January work session, council members questioned the impact of ADUs on affordable housing and expressed concerns that ADUs could be used as temporary rentals through companies like Airbnb.

Staff argued that in the five years that ADUs have been allowed, only a handful have been built because the current ordinance is too restrictive.

During the public comment period, residents in the Avenues and the East Bench pushed back against any proposal to allow ADUs in their neighborhoods.  To appease those communities, city staff decided on a boundary line that would exclude those areas, allowing ADUs only west of Canyon Road, south of South Temple (after State Street) and west of 1300 East to Interstate 80.

Staff noted that while residents from the Avenues and East Bench were generally opposed to allowing ADUs in their communities, residents from other areas of the city were predominantly in favor of a city-wide solution by removing the proposed boundary line.

While there may not be an appetite to remove the boundary line, staff want to add the Residential Mixed Use (RMU), Residential Office (RO) and Residential Business (RB) zones to the list of permissible places to build ADUs.

Council members were most concerned with ensuring that ADUs are used as long-term rentals for residents and not short-term rentals for visitors to the city.

“I don’t know if we as a city can significantly alter the natural forces of that sharing economy,” said Salt Lake City Planning Director, Nick Norris. “If we have ADUs in the city some of them will be rented out as short-term rentals.”

Norris argued that ADUs are already significantly regulated and in comparison to other land uses have less impact on the surrounding neighborhood.  Norris cited several examples of successful ADU policies and argued that the evolving economy of short-term rentals impacts all types of housing, not just ADUs.

“We are talking about expanding a use that we don’t understand, that hasn’t been proven in our city,” said Councilmember Charlie Luke.  “This would be a great opportunity if someone was interested in additional income to build an accessory dwelling unit, list it on Airbnb and make a heck of a lot more money than you would make renting it to someone that needs affordable housing or is just starting out.”

Norris countered that research shows that short-term rentals have made home ownership more accessible to people that normally couldn’t afford home ownership.  Additionally, the city has referenced the Colorado city of Durango as an example of a city with a successful ADU ordinance that helped make housing more affordable citywide.

In addition to short-term rentals, Luke, who represents the East Bench community, also expressed concern about ADUs changing the dynamic of established neighborhoods.

“We are not having an honest or real discussion about what impact these (ADUs) potentially will be,” said Luke.

The council will hold the first of several public hearings on the ADU amendment during the council’s July 25 formal meeting in the City and County Building.

Posted by Isaac Riddle

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at