You have no doubt heard at least a little bit about accessory dwelling units – small one or even two story homes constructed on the same lot as a larger main home.
Advocates of ADUs argue that every residential property in the city should be rezoned to allow ADUs. Here is why I think this position is wrong and why I think that overlay districts are the best approach.
Raleigh is geographically a large city with 144 square miles. It has many diverse neighborhoods ranging from historic neighborhoods to newer suburban neighborhoods at Brier Creek, Leesville, Creedmoor Rd, Strickland, Falls of Neuse, Louisburg Rd, New Bern, etc. Some neighborhoods are near universities and colleges. Some are not. Some like Boylan Heights, Glenwood-Brooklyn, and Oakwood are within walking distance of downtown high rises while others are within walking distance of Falls Dam, Falls Lake, and Umstead park – very different environments.
Advocates of ADUs have proposed rezoning the entire city with all its diversity to allow two residential structures per lot effectively doubling with the stroke of the pen the allowable residential density of Raleigh. In my view this is simply too dramatic of a change and it is a change that happens without real citizen engagement or input.
I support the use of overlays because it gives each of Raleigh’s neighborhoods a chance to consider if rezoning for ADUs is right for them. If some think that ADUs are right for their neighborhood, then let’s have a process whereby that neighborhood can have them. However, let’s not be so bold to impose one neighborhood’s wishes on every other neighborhood throughout the entire city. An overlay process allows that happen.
If enough people want ADUs in their neighborhood, then with an overlay process, they can request to rezone their neighborhood. What does this mean exactly? A typical neighborhood consists of about 30 to 70 homes. If one or more people live in a neighborhood, then they can request a rezoning. Upon receiving that request the City will start a public process to consider the request. If enough people in the neighborhood agree, the request will proceed to the city’s Planning Commission and the City Council.
Like any rezoning, the request will be considered publicly. The pros and cons will be heard and ultimately Council will render a decision. If Council agrees with the request, then an overlay district will be applied to the neighborhood allowing ADUs.
There is nothing new about overlay districts. Overlay districts have been used for many years to preserve the unique characters and history of many city neighborhoods. Overlays are a recognition that one size does not fit all. And overlays are an exercise in democracy allowing each neighborhood to determine its own destiny without dictating those terms to every other neighborhood in the city.
With overlays the city can move forward allowing rezoning for ADUs where they make sense and where they are wanted. Rather than rushing to rezone the entire city to double residential density everywhere, I think that taking a more measured approach allowing each neighborhood to participate in that important decision is the best approach.
Thank you for listening.
David Cox, PhD
Raleigh City Council