Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance may be a good idea, but it lacks backbone

A “granny flat” accessory dwelling unit in Portland, Ore. Lexington is considering allowing similar units in most Lexington neighborhoods.
A “granny flat” accessory dwelling unit in Portland, Ore. Lexington is considering allowing similar units in most Lexington neighborhoods. Photo submitted

The Op-Ed published on Aug. 23 tried to allay some of the issues regarding the Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) that were raised in an earlier Op-ed on Aug. 16. However, the excuses noted in the most recent article are parroting the same points presented in favor of ADUs in the public meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 20, held by the Planning Division of the City, which are that the cost of the ADU and lot size are major impediments to their rampant proliferation.

This new ordinance will mainly provide a much-desired green light to the many multi property owning landlords to increase their rental square footage and reap the benefits of additional rental revenue. The ordinance, as it stands right now, does not require any specific elements and materials thus allowing an “anything goes” attitude.

The excuse that there will be a review process for the ADU to be constructed is another falsehood! This is great on paper, but it is an ordinance without any teeth. What stops a landlord from simply submitting acceptable designs in order to obtain the permit and then do what they want with the knowledge that once an unauthorized project is completed the city is loath to make the builder/owner undo it. That is, there is no corrective action. Landlords know this and will restructure a house or add an ADU as they see fit to ensure maximum rentability and profits. This is the case with many illegal (as they have no direct exit to the outside) additions of bedrooms to basements of rental properties in the vicinity of the UK campus which Code Enforcement either does not know about or cannot investigate even if they are notified.

The other excuse that the high cost of adding an ADU is also unrealistic was also mentioned at the meeting as being a preventative measure to a large number of ADUs for strictly rental purposes. One scenario noted in the Aug. 23 Op-ed concerning rapid growth of ADUs in a neighborhood in which a large number of property owners decide to add ADUs all at once is very realistic. They will not pass up such a lucrative and affordable opportunity. It is easy to see the growing number of cheaply constructed vinyl duplexes replacing or altering the unique older homes in the area surrounding the UK campus with the large vinyl additions that eventually led to a ‘vinyl box’ moratorium in the early 2000’s. With the ADU ordinance adding to the continued deterioration of these neighborhoods, landlords have the freedom once again to attach vinyl boxes to their properties. The other scenario noted in the Op-ed about an investor coming and buying several properties has already played out in the neighborhoods surrounding the UK campus.

The lack of parking requirements is another flaw of the current ADU ordinance. These units will mainly be built with the intention of renting; the goal of providing granny flats for elderly relatives to live in is a good intention but does not reflect the reality. As such, more people with vehicles will be added to a single property resulting in parking illegally in the yard or converting backyards to parking lots as there is no more parking available on the streets. Current rental homes allow up to six unrelated persons to live in the house which often means six vehicles parked on the property or in the streets. A large number of properties in the area around the UK campus have that many residents per property and this is a parking and traffic nightmare. At a minimum, the ordinance needs to revisit this issue and require parking provisions.

As told to us in the meeting, the city is proposing the addition of ADUs in order to address future housing needs. The expected 30,000 or more residents are certainly not going to be accommodated with the ADUs. Please put some backbone in the ordinance.

Nikiforos Stamatiadis is a Professor of Civil Engineering at UK specializing in transportation and traffic engineering addressing commuter issues.