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The City Journals

Cottonwood Heights City Council nearing a vote for accessory dwelling units (ADUs)

Feb 19, 2019 03:32PM ● By Cassie Goff

The city is unsure of how many ADUs reside within city boundaries, but they know there’s many. (Utah League of Cities and Towns)

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

Last time on Cottonwood Heights City Council meetings: it was October 2017, and the debate surrounding accessory dwelling units (ADUs) was frequent and heated. Many council members, commissioners, city planning staff members and residents voiced their opinions and concerns. A draft ordinance was created and had not yet passed the planning commission. 

During the 2018 calendar year, the ADU debate shifted from the hot-button issue to one pushed off for later discussion. Those discussions were sporadic — with a few residents commenting on the subject during city meetings, and the planning commission recommending approval of the draft ordinance on Jan. 17, 2018 — but no action had been taken by the city council… until now. 

A discussion on the proposed ADU draft ordinance was on the agenda for the Feb. 4 city council meeting. That discussion lasted 35 minutes, with the conclusion to discuss the issue further at the next meeting. 

The two main concerns many residents have voiced are parking and density. “ADUs allow two separate families to live in the same house. I don’t want to see R-1 become R-2 (zoning). Parking is a big issue too; there will be more cars on the street,” said resident Robert Jacobs. 

“That’s a huge issue to me: if you’re changing the character of a residential neighborhood for more and more parking,” said City Manager Tim Tingey. “I’ve administered a similar ordinance in another city for six to seven years and the main check and balance was the owner-occupancy. People that live in these homes are not wanting to rent out to five, six, seven people. I never saw that once in any of the approved ADUs.”  

During a city-wide survey, opinions on ADUs were fairly split — which did not help the city council in their deliberations. (Y2 Analytics)

“That’s the concern I hear from everybody in my community,” said Councilmember Christine Mikell. “Preservation of the low-density single-family neighborhoods. We are changing that with increasing the ADUs” 

After discussing implementing owner-occupancy language into the ordinance, and possibly adding a limitation that an ADU can be no more than two bedrooms, the council had to decide if they wanted to further discuss the issue or put it up for a vote in two weeks. 

Mikell suggested bringing it back for discussion. “We have all seen Robert Jacobs stand up and say, ‘I’d like to talk about ADUs.’ I thought it was refreshing to see some language in the ordinance to get him more comfortable. I’m hopeful that we can still make some changes that can get some of our residents that feel really strongly opposed, to where they can support it.” 

Councilmember Mike Shelton would like to proceed with the staff’s recommended ordinance. “We don’t anticipate that there will be hundreds of these right away,” he said. 

Councilmember Scott Bracken expressed support for adding in the additional suggested language to limit an ADU to two bedrooms, then proceed with a vote as well. 

Councilmember Tali Bruce will be recusing herself for the vote, since her home has a non-occupied ADU. However, she is in support of owner-occupancy language. “I used my ADU when I was a single mom. I had a single mom in the basement with her one son. I was upstairs with my three children and it made the home affordable for me: to live in a good neighborhood, where my kids can walk to school. It was a positive experience for more. It works out beautifully.”

Mayor Mike Peterson is also considering recusing himself from the vote. “My son has an ADU and that’s how he can afford his home.”

Tingey reminded the council of the recommendations from the planning commission and staff. “If you did approve it with the recommendation, we can come back and revisit this after one year and see if it’s not working. That’s only if you approve it.” 

The city council will vote on the proposed ordinance on Feb. 19, during their business meeting.