Entering year six of the seemingly never-ending debate over accessory dwelling units, the Raleigh City Council opted to delay action on proposed regulations that would allow granny flats in the city after the planning commission recommended against implementing the process preferred by a majority on the council. That overlay/petition process would essentially require residents who want to build an ADU on their property to get their neighbors’ permission by rather than being able to do so by right. The council instead asked staff members for information on other regulatory paths, including a special permit or special-use process. 

The delay was frustrating for overlay supporters. 

“This has dragged on so long and I was so ready to set a public hearing on this,” said council member Stef Mendell. “I’m really hoping we can make some decision in two weeks.”

Discussions on ADUs date back to before 2013, when regulations were slated to go in the city’s unified development ordinance but were removed from the final code. Residents in Mordecai then petitioned the council to again consider ADUs in 2016, and the issue has crawled through a lengthy debate in council committees and the planning commission ever since. 

The city’s Growth and Natural Resources Committee—comprising Mendell, Russ Stephenson, Kay Crowder, Dickie Thompson, and David Cox—recommended an overlay zone that would force homeowners who want to build ADUs to distribute ballots to neighbors within a ten-acre area and get support for the overlay from more than half who respond, and at least a quarter of the neighborhood must respond to the survey for the overlay to be granted. 

The planning commission recommended against the overlay, calling it too complicated. It suggested the council continue discussing how to implement ADUs in a way that will promote rather than hinder their construction. One planning commissioner suggested citywide approval processes for special-use permits, and another recommended a spot-rezoning process. 

“We think the ADU process should be fairly simple and straightforward, easily accomplished, and [have] some means to protect the neighbors,” said planning commission chairman Rodney Swink.

That was not what the council’s majority—which tends to be protective of neighborhood concerns—wanted to hear. Stephenson called the overlay a “compromise” and said that a special-use or special permit process would actually be more restrictive.  

“Almost six years ago, my committee tried to pass a citywide ADU ordinance,” he said. “We could never get five votes, so what’s come forward to the planning commission is a compromise that’s been able to attract enough votes to pass. Although I’d prefer a citywide ordinance, I’ve waited six years to get something done. I want to do it.”

Mayor Nancy McFarlane asked to discuss alternative options, but Thompson moved to table the matter for two weeks pending more information from staff. Crowder noted that there were some minor spelling and technical issues in the proposal that could be cleaned up.

Cox said they should just get on with it. 

“If we can’t make a decision in two weeks, then the only thing I’m going to support is the overlay,” Cox said. 

Proponents of ADUs-by-right say they are an easy way to add what’s called missing-middle housing, which helps urban single-family neighborhoods add density and combat rising housing prices. In 2017, Wake County commissioners urged Raleigh and other municipalities “to join Wake County in allowing development and reducing obstacles for accessory dwelling units.”

“Raleigh has a growing housing affordability challenge,” Stewart told the INDY after the meeting. “If we really want to make this solution work, we should be figuring out how to incentivize the building of ADUs.”

Most importantly, rising to this challenge means embracing cozier communities by gently adding room for more neighbors in our neighborhoods, and prioritizing low carbon mobility options like buses, bikes, and scooters, and the infrastructure to support them.

— Nicole Stewart (@Nicole4Raleigh) January 3, 2019