FCNC Letter to CM on ADUs – 8-16-2021

August 16, 2021

Dear Councilmembers,

Coming soon before the Urban County Council is a citywide zoning change to allow “Accessory Dwelling Units” (ADUs) or second dwellings on single-family lots, ZOTA 2019-5.  After long study and discussion, the Fayette County Neighborhood Council voted July 12 in a general membership meeting to oppose the ordinance as recommended by the Planning Commission on October 21, 2019.  

We all share the high aims of this ordinance:  increasing opportunity for affordable housing to meet a wide spectrum of needs in our community, especially those of seniors, people with disabilities and extended families.  We have little confidence, however, in the outcome it promises:  a gradual and widely scattered increase in small-scale housing at moderate rates.  We believe Lexington stands to lose far more than it gains if the Council adopts this ordinance as proposed.

We hope to work with you to develop sounder and more effective ordinances to meet the important goal of affordable and varied housing opportunity.  Right now the work begins with protecting and enhancing what we have, in three important ways:  (1)  Prevent housing loss and degradation, and reduce displacement of long-term residents, through rental licensing and inspection.  (2) Improve outreach to make families aware where complete dwelling areas within the home are permissible today, with full second kitchens; improve the processes.  (3) Support community partners piloting other promising senior housing options for wider local development and use.  We stand ready to continue discussion on the ADU option, to improve its equity and affordability.

ORDINANCE DETAILS:  The zoning change, ZOTA 2019-5, would allow any house-lot in the city to add an apartment or second, backyard house of 625-800 square feet.  Owners could develop the ADU—a complete and independent second dwelling—in the space currently allowed to a house addition or garage.  House-lots of any size in virtually any urban residential zone could add an ADU, including duplex and townhouse lots subdivided for single, attached residences.  Changes in the ordinance, added just before the Planning Commission vote, would limit ADU occupancy to two people plus their children, and would require an owner’s permanent residence on any lot with an ADU.  Find more details on our website, including Info Highlights with links to city materials, and Issues and Concerns.

At FCNC’s July meeting, the concerns and objections to the proposed ADU ordinance were as varied as our Lexington neighborhoods.  The ideas that found the broadest agreement are distilled in eight points briefly stated here.  These realistic safeguards and improvements are needed before an Accessory Dwelling Ordinance can  be considered for Lexington.  The longer version of the CHIEF POINTS, posted on our website, gives the background to explain why.

Chief Points on the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Ordinance:

  1. Granny flats are here already, permitted without a public hearing. City staff can grant a permit for a complete new dwelling within the home, provided it shares access and is not separately rented.  We can publicize and improve the permit process, and turn our energies at the same time toward a wider spectrum of senior housing options.
  2. Enforcement comes first: institute rental licensing and inspection.  The need is critical; prevent housing loss and degradation that continues to displace long-term residents in vulnerable neighborhoods.  Without effective oversight, ADU rules like owner residence and limited occupancy are meaningless, as many student rental areas show.  
  3. Map the ADU option only where it fits, not using a citywide ZOTA but our regular zone change process, so the community directly impacted is directly involved. use full transparency.
  4. As a truly complete and independent unit, the second dwelling is not really “accessory,” or subordinate and incidental but rather is a “principal” use: it does not belong in single-family zoning. Create a flexible, less-intensive new duplex zone R-2A for this housing option.
  5. Provide for balanced distribution, so ADUs don’t crowd in the older, affordable neighborhoods where student and tourist demand drives rents high. Surely private deed restrictions, at high cost, are not the equitable solution for regulating ADU distribution.  Set a spacing requirement for ADUs to spread them across the urban area.
  6. Set ADU zoning standards to apply flexibly, through a conditional use permit with local input. Require public review to safeguard community welfare and compatibility:  street safety and parking; flooding and sewers; tree canopy and privacy; lot size, setbacks and buildable area or F.A.R.; and spacing between ADU properties.
  7. Do not allow an ADU in a structure that does not meet current zoning standards. A backyard cottage is far more intensive than a garage or storage shed:  the enlarged use in a substandard structure should not be legal.
  8. ADU developers should pay their fair share of taxes and infrastructure fees, to ensure adequate public facilities and services for all. ADU owners are establishing an independent dwelling unit that may prove a source of significant income.

Bottom line, FCNC sees a real disconnect between the high aims and the likely outcomes of the ADU ordinance now before you.  I look forward to our working together to do better.

Walt Gaffield
President, Fayette County Neighborhood Council, Inc.