Plan to allow Tacomans to build a second dwelling on their property gets some tweaks

The creation of more accessory dwelling units in Tacoma, some of which will become rentals, is the goal of proposed revisions to the city’s Municipal Code.
The creation of more accessory dwelling units in Tacoma, some of which will become rentals, is the goal of proposed revisions to the city’s Municipal Code. Associated Press file

Noting concerns from property owners and council members, Tacoma’s City Council on Tuesday added three amendments to new rules proposed for adding accessory dwelling units to existing properties within the city.

The goal is to encourage development of so-called ADUs and detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs), so property owners find it easier to build code-compliant, permitted second living spaces within or adjacent to existing properties. Under current rules, detached units are not allowed in most residential areas of the city.

The idea is that the new living spaces would offer affordable rent alternatives or create age-in-place options for relatives or offer other rent alternatives for people to help create income.

The road to revising rules started after a review was requested by the City Council in December 2017.

Concerns recently submitted in writing and during public testimony reflect worries over short-term or high-priced rentals overtaking neighborhoods or the decline of neighborhoods with a rise in density.

Those issues as well as questions raised by council members at a Feb. 26 study session have led to adjustments in the proposed changes, with more possibly to come as the results are examined once the code revisions are in motion.

Three amendments were added to the proposed ordinance at its first reading Tuesday. They addressed owner-occupancy in regard to developing short-term rentals, maximum unit size and data collection.

Summaries, as they were represented in the council’s agenda packet:

Short term rental limit: “Prevent over-concentrations of short-term rentals by requiring the owner to occupy one of the two dwellings.” This is mean to address vacation rentals (rentals of a few days such as Airbnb) and would not affect longer tenant rental agreements arranged on a month-to-month lease basis.

Maximum ADU size: “Modify the proposed maximum ADU size to 1,000 square feet to better ensure that ADUs are clearly accessory to the main house.” The amendment addresses concerns that some detached units might have been built out of proportion to the original dwelling unit. An original proposal had allowed up to 1,500 feet.

ADU reporting: “Requesting regular reporting to Council on the permitting and production of ADUs to help ensure that the regulations are functioning as intended.” The reports would be generated at 12 months, 18 months, 3 years and 6 years “after the effective date of these code changes.” They would include the “number of ADU permits, number of ADUs built, geographic distribution of permits, ADU size and height, affordability/rent levels, parking provided and photos and site plans of newly constructed ADUs.”

Council member Lillian Hunter offered the amendment regarding data collection.

“I fall in the camp of being cautiously supportive of ADUs,” Hunter said. “We want to see what happens and move forward with due diligence at these checkpoints ... and see if what we intended with regard to ADUs actually happens, and if there are unintended consequences or concerns were realized, then we can run an early intervention.”

Final reading at council is scheduled for March 19.

Council member Chris Beale said at Tuesday’s meeting that he would offer a resolution at the final reading to direct further study around incentives tied to affordable housing to help permitting for those seeking low-interest loans, fee waivers, permit waivers and more.

“There are things we can learn from other jurisdictions ... when it comes to encouraging these units to be built but also measuring the impacts,” Beale said. “We’re actually behind the curve in terms of cities our size in permitting additional accessory dwelling units.

“There’s not a one-size fits all for every single community, but I think this council’s commitment to affordability really stands out as a common value among all of us.”

If approved, the new regulations would take effect in May — a month later than proposed initially — to give more time for design guideline preparation by the Planning Department and for community outreach.