Proposed ADU Changes

The City of Boulder conducted a survey about Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Owner Accessory Units (OAUs) in April 2018.  It looked for feedback about 12 proposed eliminations or reductions of zoning controls for ADUs and OAUs (additional, separate living units that would be added to single family lots in neighborhoods, in addition to the homes already existing on the lots).  Since the survey only presented one-sided arguments for removing or reducing limits, BNA stated their position on each of the questions.

City of Boulder’s 12 Proposed Eliminations of ADU Zoning Restrictions
BNA’s Response At-A-Glance Guide:

1.  Eliminating the requirement that ADUs and OAUs have an additional off-street parking requirement.
BNA Recommends: “Strongly disagree.”

2.  Doubling the allowable saturation/concentration of ADUs/OAUs.
BNA Recommends: “Strongly disagree.”

3.  Not counting existing non-conforming structures (such as illegal, but grandfathered duplexes) toward the saturation limit.
BNA Recommends: “Strongly disagree.”

4.  Allowing OAUs in more zones.
BNA Recommends: “Strongly disagree.”

5. Increasing the maximum size of an ADU from 1/3 to ½ of the square footage of the principal unit.
BNA Recommends: “Strongly disagree.”

6. Lowering the minimum lot size to 5,000 sq ft.
BNA Recommends: “Agree.” This would not appear to have significantly deleterious effect on neighborhood character.

7. Increasing the allowable size of OAUs to 800 sf.
BNA Recommends: “Strongly disagree.”

8. Detached OAU design.
BNA Recommends: “Agree.” BNA sees no objection to allowing OAUs to be subject to Compatible Development Standards.

9. Eliminating the time period between initial purchase of a principal dwelling unit, and when construction on an ADU can begin.
BNA Recommends: “Strongly disagree.”

10. Transference of ADU permits.
BNA Recommends: “Strongly Agree.” BNA sees no objection to staff’s proposal here.

11. Accessory units not being allowed for short-term rental use.
BNA Recommends: “Strongly agree.”

12. Increasing the occupancy in accessory units from two, to three of four.
BNA Recommends: “Strongly disagree.”

Explanation For BNA’s Above Recommended Responses:

1. Eliminating the requirement that ADUs and OAUs have an additional off-street parking requirement. BNA Recommends: “Strongly disagree.” This highly concerning change should not be pursued by the City of Boulder. The unrealistically rosy analysis staff suggests in the survey is deeply flawed, and faulty.

This is how things actually play out in ADU situations, regarding parking: 1) The principal dwelling unit is occupied by an individual, couple, or family. There are likely to be at least two drivers in that scenario. 2) Then, they build an ADU, which has an 89% chance of housing one or two more drivers, according to City staff data. 3) That’s the proof: The ADU adds more drivers, and more vehicles, to the equation. Fortunately there is currently a requirement that ADUs must have an additional off-street parking space. BNA adamantly urges the City not to remove this requirement. There are many streets in many neighborhoods that are at the tipping point, in terms of parking challenges. Staff’s proposal to remove off street parking requirements will make the currently challenging situations far worse.

2. Doubling the allowable saturation/concentration of ADUs/OAUs. BNA Recommends: “Strongly disagree.” This highly concerning change should not be pursued by the City of Boulder for two reasons:

Issue A: Staff again presents in the survey a highly questionable, and potentially very inaccurate, guess. The City’s entire push for ADUs is based on its claim of few ADUs in the City. But they are only counting the number of legal ADUs. There are many more illegal ADUs. Virtually every neighbor in most neighborhoods knows of an illegal ADU on their street. The City’s woefully inadequate enforcement staff has no concept of how many illegal units are out there. This is largely due to there being exactly 1.5 field enforcement officers, charged with field enforcement for 20,000 rental units in Boulder.

Before anything happens, the community deserves to see a solid action plan from the City regarding how they intend to quantify, and bring into licensure, all the illegal, unlicensed ADUs.   Then, re-tally the total number of ADUs in the City, and then – and only then – chart a policy course. Because at least then, the City be working from accurate numbers.

Issue B: There’s the further question of whether the 10% saturation limit is really the limiting factor of why there aren’t more ADUs. It may not be, at all. How many ADU applications have actually been denied because of the 10% rule? Indications suggest very few. Before increasing the saturation rate from 10%, Council should probe the extent to which the 10% saturation limitation actually contributes to low numbers of ADUs. People may not be doing ADUs for an entirely different reason having nothing to do with the 10% saturation limit. If that’s the case, Boulder should fully (or at least, more fully) tap the 10% saturation, before doubling it.

The “video game map” staff have presented here is deceiving. It’s meant to convince the public, but it has no basis in actual reality. It’s a fictitious, video game-style rendering of the imaginary results of increasing saturation. But staff have no actual idea how many ADUs will result from an increase in saturation levels, or whether the saturation limit is even the problem. So why double it, when so much is unknown?

3. Not counting existing non-conforming structures (such as illegal, but grandfathered duplexes) toward the saturation limit. BNA Recommends: “Strongly disagree.” This change should not be pursued by the City of Boulder. If there already exists a non-conforming structure within a 300’ radius, it is already increasing the density, parking issues, and other impacts within that radius. For example, if a non-conforming, illegal but grandfathered duplex exists in a single family neighborhood, it literally doubles the density/intensity on that property. It’s difficult to conceive of a justification for not counting it in concentration counts. Impact is impact.

Imagine a particular 300′ radius area in a single family neighborhood has 10 non-conforming, illegal-but-grandfathered duplexes. The area undoubtedly feels the additional impact of this. Now the City is proposing more impact on this area. Under what possible logic should the existing non-conforming units not be counted? To not do so is to essentially propose “double jeopardy” for such areas. Not only do they have the misfortune of grandfathered non-conforming units (which would be illegal if proposed today), but now staff proposes to pile on more impact.

4. Allowing OAUs in more zones. BNA Recommends: “Strongly disagree.”
This should not be pursued by the City of Boulder. Up to this point, OAUs have not been subject to any concentration/saturation limit, because the current zones where they’re allowed have very large lots: Residential Rural (30,000 sq ft lot) and Residential Estate (15,000 sq ft lot ). But now the City is proposing to expand OAUs to all residential zones in Boulder. Because it is not yet certain whether Council will vote for saturation limits for OAUs in the additional zones that would be opened up to OAUs, BNA must for now urge caution around this proposed change.s.

5. Increasing the maximum size of an ADU from 1/3 to ½ of the square footage of the principal unit. BNA Recommends: “Strongly disagree.” This should not be pursued by the City of Boulder, because it essentially, specifically targets neighborhoods with smaller houses. Staff writes: “This requirement presents challenges for people with smaller homes.”   The problem is, the Boulder neighborhoods struggling under the most impact already, are the ones with smaller houses. This change would simply add more ADUs and more impact, challenges, and changes to neighborhood character to Boulder’s most already-beleaguered neighborhoods.

Further, homes are more closely spaced in neighborhoods with smaller houses. So impacts from ADUs and OAUs will be felt far more keenly, due to the closer proximity of properties. Areas with smaller homes not only have smaller lots, they also typically have narrower streets, compounding the problem even further.

6. Lowering the minimum lot size to 5,000 sq ft. BNA Recommends: “Agree.” This would not appear to have significantly deleterious effect on neighborhood character.

7. Increasing the allowable size of OAUs to 800 sf. BNA Recommends: “Strongly disagree.” This highly concerning change should not be pursued by the City of Boulder. 800 square feet is the size of entire 2 bdrm houses in many of Boulder’s more modest neighborhoods. Allowing OAUs to be that size will effectively add second houses to lots. It will fundamentally and forever eliminate the neighborhood character in most parts of Boulder.

Again, the staff illustration in the survey is very deceiving. Their illustration pits a massive McMansion-size principal dwelling unit next to an OAU. In reality, more commonly we see entire neighborhoods of principal dwelling unit houses roughly the size of the OAU staff illustrates in the survey, with the purple shading. So this proposed change is essentially a proposal to add two houses on lots. If it were presented to the public that way, accurately, and in keeping with reality as opposed to fictitious, misleading drawings, the public would likely feel differently. The public has a right to non-biased presentation of information. Staff have not done that here.

8. Detached OAU design. BNA Recommends: “Agree.” BNA sees no objection to allowing OAUs to be subject to Compatible Development Standards.

9. Eliminating the time period between initial purchase of a principal dwelling unit, and when construction on an ADU can begin. BNA Recommends: “Strongly disagree.” This highly concerning change should not be pursued by the City of Boulder. BNA would be agreeable with somewhat shortening the wait time to 3 years, but not removing it altogether. With no wait time, this will be a bonanza for speculative purchases purely based on the additional profit potential. ADUs and OAUs will become profit schemes rather than the original intent of keeping people in their homes.

10. Transference of ADU permits. BNA Recommends: “Strongly Agree.” BNA sees no objection to staff’s proposal here.

11.  Accessory units not being allowed for short-term rental use. BNA Recommends: “Strongly agree.” The City’s own stated goal for accessory units is creating affordability for Boulder residents and would-be residents, not travelers or tourists who are simply visiting Boulder. Secondly, short term renters are not generally invested in the neighborhood. They create a constantly revolving door of quickly rotating people, as opposed to neighbors that one can actually get to know and build a relationship with. Third, Boulder in general and neighborhoods in particular benefit from people who are invested in the community, from a social and psychological standpoint. People who are here for a while tend to contribute to our community, and care about it.

12. Increasing the occupancy in accessory units from two, to three of four. BNA Recommends: “Strongly disagree.” This highly concerning change should not be pursued by the City of Boulder. The City is selling ADUs to the community as a “low impact” housing strategy. BNA does not agree. But low impact becomes even more far-fetched if the proposal is 3 – 4 unrelated people in a second housing unit on a single lot.

 

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