A new set of pre-approved designs released by the Raleigh City Council this week makes it easier than ever for people to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their property.
ADUs, otherwise known as backyard cottages or granny flats, have long been a subject of debate for the city council. Finally, after eight years of argument over the issue, council members led by Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin approved ADUs in 2020, in a 6-1 vote.
The new rules allow people to build ADUs that are attached to their homes, detached, or above a garage. Now, a set of 11 pre-made designs shows homeowners what those ADUs could look like.
The designs include everything from energy-efficient tiny homes to accessible apartments with ramps and grab bars. There are compact cottages as small as 288 square feet and two-bedroom homes as large as 800 square feet.
The plans are the result of a nationwide call for ADU designs that was sent out earlier this year, according to a news release. The city received 46 submissions that were “reviewed by a jury of local designers and industry experts” before officials decided on the 11 designs released Wednesday.
These detailed architectural plans already meet Raleigh’s building codes, making it far easier for people to secure a permit from the city to actually build them. They also come at a reduced price, “far below the typical design cost,” the news release states.
After purchasing a design, homeowners still have to submit a site plan to the city, which is reviewed for zoning, stormwater, and other applicable development regulations. Permits will be issued after plans are approved and fees are paid, according to the website.
Why Build an ADU?
Back when the city council approved ADUs, members talked briefly about ways to incentivize residents to build them. Baldwin argued that ADUs could help alleviate some of Raleigh’s housing challenges, not only by giving seniors a way to continue living in their neighborhoods or near their families, but also by adding to the supply of affordable apartments.
ADUs can be used traditionally, as accessible homes for aging homeowners (while they rent out their main home), or as homes for people with disabilities or medical challenges. But ADUs can also serve as a valuable source of income for homeowners, either as long-term or short-term rentals.
According to the news release, ADUs often rent for less than other apartments in the same neighborhoods. They also “offer a more desirable housing type for renters who don’t want to live in larger, multi-family communities,” the release stated.
The biggest controversy raised in the ADU debate was around homeowners potentially using them as AirBnB’s or short-term vacation rentals. Despite objections from councilman David Cox (who declined to run for re-election this year), the city council has allowed ADUs to be used for short-term rentals.
Baldwin says the city hasn’t faced significant problems because of AirBnBs the way some cities, like Asheville, have. So far, the rentals haven’t cut into the supply of affordable housing, nor have they raised many complaints from neighbors. In roughly four years (from 2015 to early 2020), the city processed only 55 complaints related to AirBnBs, according to Baldwin. Last year, after a new permitting program was put in place for short-term rentals, the city received only one complaint. So it looks like ADUs (and AirBnBs) will both be around for the foreseeable future.
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