The Raleigh City Council voted Tuesday to create an overlay district for accessory dwelling units—forcing homeowners to petition their neighborhood for the right to build one on their property—overcoming a slight legal hurdle as the council majority’s five votes in favor of the regulation two weeks ago were short of the six votes required by state statute to pass an ordinance. 

State law requires a two-thirds majority to pass an ordinance but allows a simple majority to pass it on a second reading. In the second vote, council members Russ Stephenson, Stef Mendell, David Cox, Dickie Thompson, and Kay Crowder voted to enact the overlay, while Mayor Nancy McFarlane and council members Nicole Stewart and Corey Branch voted against it. 

McFarlane called the process too complicated, arguing that ADUs are a way to add housing options at no cost to the taxpayer. 

“[The overlay district is] cumbersome and really defeats our primary goal of providing housing,” McFarlane said. 

The city’s planning commission had recommended against the overlay district, noting the process would likely result in few, if any, ADUs being constructed. The overlay process requires anyone wishing to build an ADU on their property to petition their neighbors within a ten-acre area—drawn by the applicant and easily gerrymandered, as Branch pointed out—to vote in favor of creating a district. At least a quarter of homeowners in the area must respond to the petition and a majority must be in favor of allowing ADUs.

The council has debated ADUs since at least 2013. The Wake County Board of Commissioners is pushing municipalities to add affordable housing options to combat a growing affordability crisis. ADUs are considered a way to add density to single-family neighborhoods and can provide “missing middle” housing. 

“The Raleigh City Council is heading in the wrong direction, and something needs to change,” Commissioner Sig Hutchinson told the INDY in January. “Either they need to change the policy or change the council.”