Creating pre-approved ADU plans could take 2-3 years, produce few units

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Friday, February 25, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

As the city council sought to facilitate the construction of secondary suites, city employees provided an update on February 16 on a key part of the council’s ADU strategy: the creation of a menu of pre-approved ADU plans and accessible to the public.

In one note, staff members said such a program would take between 20 and 30 months and nearly 2,000 man-hours to deploy. Before the plans could be made public, staff members would go through a detailed process of gathering community feedback, soliciting plans from local architects, and reviewing the plans.

The program is part of a recent effort to make ADUs easier and cheaper to build. The council is also considering whether to allow adjoining ADUs – think granny flats or garage apartments – and whether to make all ADUs legal in single family residence-large lot (SF-1) areas. and standard single-family residence-lot (SF-2) as long as the existing house on the lot is preserved. These proposed rules are part of a wider thrust to cope with rising housing prices in the city.

The Council will now decide, based on the report, whether the program is worthwhile. Board member Kathie Tovo, who led the ADU policy charge, worried that the staffers’ plan was taking too long and delivering little in return. “If we were to implement a program in the way that staff described in this memo, I’m not sure it would increase our numbers to an extent worth the investment the city would make,” he said. said Tovo at austin monitor.

The Council hoped that the pre-approved plans will facilitate the construction of ADUs by reducing design costs and speeding up the obtaining of permits. Although pre-approved ADU plans are not entirely free – architects can retain ownership and charge for the plans – they would likely be less expensive than hiring an architect. The Council also hopes that pre-approved plans, coupled with other policies, would allow more low- and moderate-income Austinites to build ADUs as a way to generate income, allowing them to stay in their homes as taxes come. land increases.

It’s unclear how much money pre-approved plans might save, but it might not be that much. “A program like this is not going to save the owner a huge amount of money,” Tovo said. City staff also noted that pre-approved plans have no effect on construction costs. Moreover, obtaining construction loans is out of reach for many low- and middle-income homeowners – precisely those who benefit most from pre-approved plans – as staff members explained in a previous memo of last summer. “In my opinion, the biggest hurdle remains access to capital,” Tovo said.

Similar programs elsewhere have resulted in modest increases in housing supply. Staff members noted that in Seattle, for example, only 36 of the nearly 1,000 ADUs authorized between 2020 and 2021 used city maps. ADUniverse program, which was established in 2019. Seattle builds nearly 50% more ADUs per year than Austin.

Here in Austin, the impact of pre-approved ADU plans could be mitigated by additional factors. Zoning regulations such as building setbacks, impervious cover requirements, tree regulations, and Austin Energy power line setbacks can either prevent ADUs altogether or make them more expensive. Pre-approved ADUs would not be exempt from these regulations. Staff members also mentioned that legal impediments regarding responsibility for plan ownership should be resolved.

If the council finally gives the go-ahead, city workers will initially take three to six months to engage with architects and builders as well as low- and middle-income homeowners “to develop criteria and priorities for ADU designs”. After that, the city will issue a public call for ADU plans. After another six months, the city would review the plans before finally approving them, a process that could take another six to 10 months.

Tovo said the timeline should be shortened for the program to make sense. “I wondered if, for example, we could partner with a city like Seattle and see if any of their plans are close enough to the types of accessory housing units that are being built in the Austin market” , she said. “I think it literally saves years.”

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