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What is in Lexington’s proposed ADU legislation?

Sectors: Development & Housing, Community Design

Council Districts: All of Lexington

Issue Sections

Quick Summary

The 2018 Comprehensive Plan recommended Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) as one potential strategy to address Lexington’s housing shortage. The Planning Department and the Division of Senior Services made a public case for ADU legislation after the adoption of the Comprehensive Plan, tying it to a strategy to address Lexington’s quickly aging population. It was endorsed by the AARP.

Since then, specific legislation has been put forth by the Division of Planning.

The ADU legislation proposed would allow for the construction of new, small housing units on almost all residential properties in Lexington. These units would have to be under 800 sqft., follow some specific guidelines, and could be used as both short-term and long-term rental properties.

Why Does This Matter?

  • While ADUs are a nationally-recognized strategy to address the issue of aging in place and housing affordability, there has been significant pushback on the proposed legislation in Lexington.
  • The public pushback against the legislation has focused around a variety of issues, specifically:
    • No Rental Inspections – the legislation would not require licensing, inspection, or enforcement for ADUs used as short-term or long-term rentals.
    • Increase in Short-Term Rental Units – the legislation would enable property owners to construct an ADU to be used as a short-term rental unit, provided they reside in the main dwelling structure.
    • Owner-occupancy – the legislation requires property owners to reside in either the ADU or main structure for short-term rentals, but there are no restrictions on long-term rentals.
    • Parking Requirements – the legislation does not mandate any parking spaces to be provided for ADUs.
    • Design Guidelines – while the Division of Planning and the UK College of Design has produced a set of Design Best Practices, there are no required style or design guidelines outside of the existing zoning ordinance and some limited additions related to entrance and staircase placement.
    • Occupancy – the legislation would allow for up to 4 unrelated adults to reside in an ADU, in addition to 4 unrelated adults living in the primary residence, per existing zoning regulations.

What is the Context?

The Division of Planning spent a significant amount of time researching national best practices for ADU legislation,  focusing on policies that would encourage wide-spread adoption by property owners. Their research found that the fewer the restrictions placed on ADU construction, the more units were built. Some residents are concerned that this lack of restrictions would lead to a declining quality of life for existing residents in neighborhoods where ADUs are constructed.

  • Some residents are concerned that a lack of licensing, inspection or enforcement for new ADU construction could impact the quality of life in neighborhoods. They state that more robust enforcement could affect building code compliance, safety, capacity and integrity of sewer lines, and more. Since the 2018 Comprehensive Plan includes mention of licensing, inspection, and enforcement for rental properties city-wide, some residents believe it would not behoove the city to create a new type of rental unit without these mechanisms in place.
    • There are currently no mechanisms for licensing, inspection, or enforcement of rental units outside of Code Enforcement and Building Inspection. Now, any individual with the means can purchase property and convert it into rental housing, as long as it follows zoning, code, and building inspection rules.
    • Landlord/rental registry/inspections have been established in other communities, but would likely be a significant political hurdle in Lexington.
  • Some residents are concerned that permitting the construction of new short-term rental units would lead to a declining quality of life in neighborhoods. Some residents have expressed frustration at the growth of short-term rentals (Airbnb, VRBO) across the city.
    • The ADU legislation restricts the construction of ADUs for short-term rentals to properties where the owner will reside in the primary structure.
  • Some residents are concerned that a lack of owner-occupancy requirements on long-term rental ADUs would lead to neighborhood decline. Many have specifically cited the impact of additional rental housing around the University of Kentucky as a negative for homeowners in the area. Rental units are on the rise overall in Lexington. The Division of Planning omitted owner-occupancy requirements in the ADU policy for long-term rentals for two reasons:
    • There is no owner-occupancy requirement for any other housing type in the City of Lexington.
    • They also state that owner-occupancy requirements act as a barrier to financing for ADU construction.
  • Residents are concerned that without the requirement of parking spaces for ADUs, additional cars will be parked on the streets. They state that this would make it more difficult for existing residents to find parking, and would present safety concerns for both drivers and pedestrians due to the increased vehicular traffic. The Division of Planning omitted parking requirements for three reasons:
    • Additional spaces can be provided, but are not mandated, since they are not needed in all situations.
    • Additional spaces are costly and could exclude otherwise suitable lots since the parking would take up space on the lot.
  • Residents are concerned that without design requirements, new ADU structures will not reflect the existing neighborhood character. However, ADUs would be required to comply with the existing zoning regulations where they are built. Existing requirements include height restrictions, lot coverage restrictions, limited design restrictions related to the placement of entrances, and exterior stairs. The current ADU legislation does not contain a mandate for community input for new ADU construction – including no public hearing. The Division of Planning omitted additional requirements for one reason:
  • Residents are concerned that without occupancy requirements, there could be up to 4 individuals living in an 800 sq. ft ADU, leading to neighborhood overcrowding. The ADU legislation has no language related to occupancy sizes – it defaults to the current zoning allowance of a maximum of 4 unrelated adults per housing unit. This would allow a maximum of 8 unrelated renters to live on a single lot if both the ADU and the primary dwelling unit were fully maxed out.
  • Additional concerns, as identified by the Fayette County Neighborhood Council can be found at this link.

How Can I Get Involved?

Edits & Authorship

  • The Primary Writer on this CivicLex post was Richard Young, with editing from the rest of the CivicLex Team.
  • This post was updated on 10/7/19 at 4:42pm to provide greater clarity around issues of design guidelines and occupancy.