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The City Journals

Final vote on ADUs: over three years in deliberation

May 20, 2019 10:02AM ● By Cassie Goff

Accessory dwelling units, also known as mother-in-law apartments, are currently illegal within city boundaries. (Mike Johnson/Cottonwood Heights)

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

In the series finale of the Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) Ordinance in Cottonwood Heights, a final vote has been heard. After three seasons and countless episodes, viewers were anticipating this moment. 

When this series was first broadcast in 2017, viewers were skeptical. There was no ordinance for ADUs in Cottonwood Heights. ADUs (residential dwelling units meant for one additional single family located on the same lot as a single-family home, either within the same building or in a detached building) were widely ignored and unenforced, even though the ones that existed in the city were operating illegally. 

By July 18, 2017, viewers were hooked by a development by then Senior Planner Mike Johnson, when he brought forward a draft of an ordinance addressing ADUs. On Aug. 15, 2017, that draft was released to the public. During the episodes between Sept. 6, 2017 and December 2017, many concerns were heard and the draft was revised. 

On Jan. 17, 2018, viewers were on the edge of their seats as the Cottonwood Heights Planning Commission voted on the proposed draft ordinance. Some were left discouraged as the final vote came in 3 to 2, in favor of passing the ordinance and recommending approval to the city council.

Feb. 4, 2018, began a long process of deliberation between each of the city council members. One of the most exhilarating moments from the year-long development was when Councilmember Tali Bruce and Mayor Mike Peterson both announced they might recuse themselves from the vote. Another significant moment for viewers was when members of the planning commission attended a handful of city council meetings to discuss the issue in tandem. 

Over three years in the making, it all came down to Feb. 19, 2019, when the ordinance was on the city council agenda to be voted upon. Or so we thought. Two of the five individuals residing on the city council (the mayor and four council members) were absent from that meeting. Councilmember Mike Shelton moved to approve the drafted ordinance. His movement was left silent as he did not receive a second. Instead of voting for approval or denial, Councilmember Scott Bracken moved to continue the action to a future business meeting. Peterson was supportive of that motion. The vote was moved to a future date, which left viewers bewildered.

On May 7, it was time for the final vote. With all four council members in attendance, along with the mayor, there was no more room for delay. Again, Shelton moved to approve the drafted ordinance. And was met with silence. Councilmember Christine Mikell then moved to approve Ordinance 316-D Denying Enactment of Chapter 19.77, concerning Accessory Dwelling Units. After minutes of discussion, leaving viewers biting their nails, Mikell voted “yes” to denial. Bracken voted “yes” to denial. Shelton voted “no” to denial. Bruce recused herself. And Peterson voted “yes.” The ADU ordinance was denied. 

"Further consideration of an ADU ordinance in Cottonwood Heights will require a new approval process and would be initiated at the direction of the mayor and city council,” said Community and Economic Development Director Mike Johnson. 


After three years working on an ADU ordinance, the Cottonwood Heights City Council denied the ordinance for implementation. ADUs will remain illegal within city boundaries.