After over a year since I attended my first meeting to discuss ADUs, Lexington’s planning staff have released their proposed changes to the zoning ordinance that would allow Accessory Dwelling Units. You can find the proposed draft here as well as a nice, succinct presentation here. Overall I love it and was even surprised at how little is restricted, but this may be because this is the first proposal and the old persuasion trick of asking for $1000 first so that they are more willing to give you $100 may be at work here. So let’s dive into it.
Most of it. Like there is very little I would change from what has been proposed. First, no minimum lot size. This is great as it will still allow smaller lots to have ADUs. Most of our older, more desirable neighborhoods have smaller lots and this will allow more people to enjoy them. There will probably be some push back against this, but I think there are plenty of other protections that will prevent any out of scale ADUs.
One ADU per lot with a max size of 800 sqft. I’m ok with both of these restrictions. Ideally there wouldn’t be either a lot limit or size limit, but I think these balance out the no minimum lot size. They prevent out of scale ADUs and I don’t see many people willing and able to build more than one, so I doubt it will do much to discourage development.
No owner occupied requirement*. This is a huge deal and I wasn’t expecting it as requiring the owner to live in either unit is an easy “fix” to a lot of neighborhood complaints (regardless of how valid those complaints are). But it can also be a poison pill, restricting development where it would be most beneficial. I’m just going to echo the staff’s presentation because their reasoning is spot on; we don’t require owner occupancy in any of our residential zones, owner occupancy requirements are a barrier to financing, and other cities have tried it and undone it as it substantially limits development. It does have one caveat though; if either the primary residence or the ADU is used as a short term rental, then the property owner is required to live in the other dwelling. I think this is totally understandable and will go far to ease worries of ADUs springing up as hotels in neighborhoods. I imagine there will be a lot of push back to require owner occupancy, but if we can manage to avoid it, I think the city as a whole will benefit from it.
Finally, the number one thing I was worried about, NO REQUIRED PARKING!!!! This is another huge win if we can keep it through to an adopted ordinance. Ask anyone with an iota of urban planning interest and they will tell you how bad parking minimums (requiring a minimum amount of parking) are. They can be substantial barriers to development and force parking where it may not be needed. Not having required parking also helps ADUs fit on smaller lots, often the places they will be of the most benefit. This will probably have the usual fear mongering of over crowded street parking, but I seriously doubt enough ADUs will go in on any one street for this to actually be a concern.
The Not Great
All this praise isn’t to say that I agree with the proposed ordinance 100%. First there is this line about entrances that I don’t fully understand:
Only one pedestrian entrance to the structure may be located on the primary wall plane of the dwelling unit.
There doesn’t seem to be a distinction between attached or detached and doesn’t mention which dwelling unit it refers to, the ADU or primary residence. So it makes it seem like you can’t have both entrances to the primary unit and ADU on the front wall. If I’m understanding that correctly I think that would be a huge mistake as it will prevent many attached garage conversions, as most attached garages face the front.
My other concern is that detached ADUs must be located behind the rear wall of the principal residence. I don’t think this is as detrimental as the entrance rule, but I do think it puts needless limits in place. I would want to see this at least eased to requiring detached ADUs to be behind the front wall of the primary residence, as this would allow the buildings to be staggered.
Overall I think the proposed ordinance is great! As this is just the first iteration proposal, there are still many opportunities for that to change though. Planning staff will be hosting a public input event on August 20th at 6pm at the Lexington Senior Center. I strongly encourage anyone interested in more housing options in Lexington to attend. You can RSVP here (it’s free) or, if you can’t make it, you can still give feedback here (the form remain open for comments until 5pm on August 23rd). I think this is a great start and if we can see it through to an adopted ordinance it has the potential to go a long way in building a better Lexington for everyone.