East/West divide evident in public hearing for ADU ordinance

On Tuesday, the public had the first of two opportunities to express their support, or lack thereof, to the Salt Lake City Council on an ordinance that could potentially help alleviate the city’s affordable housing crisis.

Tuesday’s council meeting had a very stacked agenda with public hearings held on a range of issues from homelessness to signage at the Vivint Smart Home Arena. For much of the meeting, the chamber was standing room only.

The proposed Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinance has been several years in the making.  ADUs refer to secondary residential structures like granny flats and in-law apartments in low and mid-density residential neighborhoods.

In the ADU ordinance’s draft process, Eastside and Avenues area community groups pushed to have their neighborhoods exempt from the proposed ADU ordinance.  During a September 6th straw poll, council members voted 4 to 3 to remove those exemptions and have the ADU ordinance apply citywide if adopted by council.  In the same work session, council members also voted to keep a cap of 25 permitted ADUs per year and require one off-street parking space per ADU unit.

In the vote to remove the boundary, the three nay votes came from the three council members Charlie Luke, Lisa Adams and Stan Penfold, who represent the East Bench, Sugar House and Avenues neighborhoods respectively.

The four council members voting in favor, James Rogers, Andrew Johnston, Derek Kitchen and Erin Mendenhall represent the Westside, downtown and Ballpark neighborhoods respectively.

Like the councilmembers, the residents that spoke during the public hearing were divided on their support of a citywide ADU ordinance with geography being a key indicator of those for or against the proposal.

In general, residents that identified themselves as Avenues or East Bench residents spoke against the proposed removal of the previously considered boundary citing a concern about protecting neighborhood character and adding to parking woes.

“The main problem I have with the ADU ordinance is that it essentially does change single family to multifamily zoning,” said Kim Peterson, the chair of the East Bench Community Council.

Similarly, residents that identified themselves as living in west side neighborhoods tended to speak in favor of the ADU policy citing the need for affordable housing across the city.

“We feel like this is the right policy for our community and citywide,” said Brandon Dayton, a representative from the Rose Park Community Council. “We are definitely concerned about housing and we believe that ADUs and other mechanisms of incremental growth are the most sensible way to address our need for more affordable housing in our city.  But we also believe that for the policy to work it needs to be applied more broadly without certain limitations and arbitrary boundaries.”

Dayton cited the proposed cap of 25 ADU cap and the parking requirement as limitations to the policy’s ability to effectively add to the housing stock.

Additionally, representatives from the Central City Neighborhood Council and Downtown Community Council expressed their support for ADU ordinance.

Two exceptions to the geographic divide were a Millennial-aged resident of Sugar House and an older resident from the East Bench that cited ADUs as a means to keep families together or in the same neighborhood, allowing them to take care of each other while living in separate units.

One resident told that council that she and her husband live in a tiny home and would like to be able to have a permanent place to locate it and requested that the council include tiny house living in the policy. “We like minimalist living,” she said.

The council will hold a second public hearing during their formal meeting on Tuesday, October 3rd.

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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 isaac@buildingsaltlake.com.