Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, are small housing units built on the same property of an existing home. The small flats are also called “granny flats” or “backyard cottages,” and are only allowed on properties that have a single-family home.
Now, City of Madison leaders are looking to cut red tape – changing zoning requirements so that accessory dwelling units are easier for Madison residents to build.
The proposal, approved unanimously at last night’s Plan Commission, would still require homeowners to apply for permission from the city. But it would restructure how homeowners apply to build these flats.
Currently, these dwelling units are zoned under something called conditional use. That involves a request to the city’s Plan Commission – which, some alders say, can be a lengthy and unpredictable process.
Under the proposed legislation, accessible dwelling units would be subject to something called permitted use – an easier and more predictable process.
Alder Patrick Heck represents Madison’s near-east side, and is one of the sponsors of the legislation. He says changing this process is important, as going to the city plan commission can be intimidating.
“I think the fact that it’s a conditional use rather than permitted is a barrier. That trip to plan commission isn’t necessarily in and of itself a bad thing, but it does open up the process so that, honestly, neighbors can weigh in. And oftentimes folks that want to build an ADU or alders become hesitant because neighbors oftentimes have complained about the prospect about having an ADU in an adjacent property or nearby, because they feel like it’s somehow going to impact their quality of life,” said Heck
Alders Lindsay Lemmer, Tag Evers, and Grant Foster are also sponsors of the legislation. So too is Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, who earlier this year announced a new set of initiatives to address the need to increase housing choice and create affordable housing in the city.
The plan could be a way to address growing housing issues in Madison, allowing more living spaces to be built without having to build new apartment buildings. Alder Heck says that the proposal is about options.
“I think opening up the process, and making it a little bit easier to build an accessory dwelling unit, will provide more options for more housing,” said Heck.
Heck, who is himself a member of the twelve-member Plan Commission, says that they’re also trying to make accessory dwelling units a more viable option for every single-family home in the city
During budget negotiations earlier this month, the Common Council approved a budget amendment that would establish a new loan program for homeowners seeking to build accessory dwelling units. The $400,000 program is slated to give direct loans to homeowners — particularly those without access to full financing through traditional means.
Alder Heck – along with thirteen other alders – voted to fund the program.
“We’re also hoping to grow the capabilities city wide by having this pilot program that we also funded for next year where we’ll provide partial capital cost, at least, to people who want an ADU but are unable to get traditional financing, because of being lower income or moderate income. We’re also hoping a boost a city website up that will have ADU plans and things so that people don’t need to go to the expense of hiring an architect,” said Heck.
Under the proposal, which still needs approval from the full Common Council, homeowners will still need to live on the property – meaning a single-family home and its associated A-D-U can’t be rented out at the same time. Ordinances regulating Airbnb would also still apply, meaning dwellings couldn’t be rented out for more than thirty days if the homeowner does not live on the property.
Also under the proposal, A-D-Us would be limited to two bedrooms, nine hundred square feet in total, and no higher than fifteen feet except in certain circumstances.
The plan was unanimously approved by the Madison Plan Commission. It now heads back to the Common Council for consideration in two weeks.
Photo courtesy: Karl JK Hedin / UNSPLASH