Nothing seemed to stand in the way of the Raleigh City Council majority’s desire to implement a long-awaited but still contentious accessory dwelling unit ordinance Tuesday night. Indeed, after a dozen resident spoke against the ordinance—which critics have charged would actually discourage people from building backyard cottages and give their neighbors a veto over what they can do on their property—the pro-neighborhood bloc voted as expected: Russ Stephenson, Stef Mendell, Dickie Thompson, Kay Crowder, and David Cox all in favor.
A win, 5–2, with Mayor Nancy McFarlane out sick.
The meeting adjourned, the cameras turned off, and everyone got up to leave.
Then someone realized that state law actually requires six votes—a two-thirds majority—to change the text in a city ordinance on a first reading. Whoops.
This is but a temporary setback, Stephenson says. The rules allow them to vote again in two weeks and pass the change with only five votes.
“It’s a technicality,” Stephenson said Wednesday. “It’s not going to change the course of events. Getting the second converting vote is just going to be a formality.”
Assuming all goes as planned on February 19, the ordinance will require those who want to build ADUs on their property to petition neighbors—homeowners only, as renters can’t vote—within a ten-acre area and ask them to join what’s called an overlay district. If fewer than a quarter respond to the petition, no dice. If fewer than a half of those who do respond want the overlay district, no ADUs.
At the meeting, council member Corey Branch asked how the ten-acre overlay district would be drawn. The city’s staff said the applicant can create whatever contiguous parcel they choose.
“So you can gerrymander the area to fit the folks you need?” Branch asked.
“I might use a different word, but yes,” assistant city planning director Travis Crane replied.
If the overlay district is approved—first by residents and then, formally, by the city council—then an applicant has to apply for a permit to build an ADU itself. That will cost $600 per application and take about six months, city staffers estimate.
The city’s planning commission recommended against the overlay-district process, concluding that it’s too onerous and will lead to few if any ADUs actually being built. That would run counter to the goals of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, which is pushing municipalities, especially Raleigh, to add density to head off a looming affordability crisis.
For Andrew Blackburn, the government affairs director for the Raleigh Regional Realtors Association, the council is simply creating too much red tape for homeowners.
“How can an average citizen who doesn’t get paid to keep an eye on what the city of Raleigh is doing possibly understand the steps they need to follow and the rules they need to abide by, if all they want to do is make sure their aging parents can live next to them?” he asked council members Tuesday night.
Other pro-ADU speakers who opposed the ordinance included a climate change scientist who urged the council to adopt zoning policies that will increase density and decrease sprawl; a representative from WakeUp! Wake County, who argued that ADUs will help with housing affordability; and former council members Mary-Ann Baldwin and Anne Franklin.
Only one person spoke in favor of the ADU ordinance, calling it a “good compromise.”
Compromise has been Stephenson’s rationale for supporting the regulations—he’s previously said he would favor looser rules but the debate has stalemated for years because previous councils could not reach an agreement. This, he says, is at least something.
Branch said his district overwhelmingly opposes the overlay, saying it “isn’t efficient or effective.”
“With my district far and wide, from Fayetteville Street to Battle Ridge and in between, no one is in support of this overlay,” Branch said to applause from a dwindling late-evening crowd.
Council member Dickie Thompson argued that, the planning commission’s concerns aside, the overlay will allow the construction of ADUs.
“We’re not against them. Actually, we’re for them. But we also are for protecting neighborhoods and letting folks be good neighbors for each other,” Thompson said.
Branch and council member Nicole Stewart were the sole votes against the overlay.
“At this point, I’m just super disappointed that we had an easy, clear option for adding housing choices, and we made it as complicated and onerous as we could,” Stewart said.