Salt Lake City’s new ADU numbers are out. They’re still remarkably low.

Fewer “accessory dwelling units” were permitted in 2021 than in 2020 in Salt Lake City, a leader in the state for allowing backyard “granny flats.” Those numbers are sure to disappoint policy makers who are hoping that ADUs can be a major tool in easing the Wasatch Front’s housing crunch. 

As Building Salt Lake has followed this story, we’ve explored reasons for the modest number of single-family homeowners building ADUs. 

Courtesy SLC Planning Division.

The right is limited to owner-occupied, single-family zoned properties. ADUs are illegal in every other zoning category in the city.

We asked Planning Director Nick Norris why the numbers continue to be so low. 33 ADUs permitted in 2019, 34 in 2020, 27 in 2021. He said seven additional units should be added to that 2021 number, bringing it to 34.

What’s the holdup? Is it the conditional use process (required of all external ADUs), the owner-occupancy requirement, high fees, inflation?

“One thing that is consistent across cities in the US,” Norris told us, “is numbers are always low when the regulations require an approval process like the conditional use process, when the fees are high, when there are owner occupancy requirements, and when there are a lot of [design] standards to comply with.”

Such restrictions are common, he said, as policymakers tend to respond to members of the public wary of the changes. Yet things also tend to evolve politically. 

“The cities where ADUs are beginning to provide a noticeable impact to the housing stock are those that have removed or simplified their ADU regulations,” Norris noted.

The Planning Division’s 2021 ADU Annual Report has been sent to the City Council office, and is awaiting to be scheduled for a briefing.

Posted by Luke Garrott

Luke Garrott, PhD, has published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and written features for the Salt Lake City Weekly City Guide and The West View. A former two-term councilman in Salt Lake City's District 4, he lives in Downtown Salt Lake City and grew up in the Chicago area.