Academic Detached Dwelling Units

After nearly two hours of public hearing and deliberation, the Auburn City Council approved an amendment to the zoning ordinance that creates a new performance housing use called academic detached dwelling units. 

The ordinance defines ADDUs like the city's private dormitory use, where "the typical unit configuration includes common space for living and cooking and private bedrooms, each with a dedicated bathroom" but no master bedroom/bath and with bedrooms and common spaces that are typically smaller in floor area than those found in single-family detached dwelling units.

Before the 6-3 vote, with Councilmen Brett Smith, Tommy Dawson and Councilwoman Beth Witten voting no, the council voted on a number of amendments to the proposed action that addressed the desires expressed by the development community during negotiations of the regulations accompanying the new housing use. 

The Council voted to retain the Planning Commission's recommendation to require 1.1 parking spaces per bedroom, despite the development community requesting a 1.0 space per bedroom requirement. 

The Council went against the Planning Department's recommendation to make ADDUs conditional in the Redevelopment District, instead voting 6-3 to allow the housing use by right in areas zoned RDD east of North Donahue Drive.

 RDD is being phased out of the city's zoning code, with most of the remaining parcels zoned RDD in the city shifted over to a new district, Medium-Density Residential District (MDRD), by the council on Tuesday after the ADDU vote when they approved zoning text and map amendments arising out of the Harper Avenue Focus Area Study.

The compromise struck between the Planning Department and developers  during negotiations to allow ADDUs conditionally in the Neighborhood Redevelopment District east of North Donahue, which encompasses the Canton Avenue area where many of the these student-housing projects have appeared, was ultimately passed by the council, but not before the council narrowly voted down a motion brought by Councilman Brett Smith to allow ADDUs in NRD by right. 

In total, ADDUs will now be allowed by right in Urban Neighborhood Districts East, West and South and in RDD, and be conditional in Corridor Redevelopment Districts Urban and Suburban, NRD and the newly created MDRD, which is generally found in the area around Harper Avenue. ADDUs would be prohibited in all other zoning districts.

Councilman Kelley Griswold also made a motion to amend the proposed ordinance to prohibit ADDUs in parcels found within and abutting the North College Historic District, which drew immediate shouts of protest from developers in the council chambers, who noted the motion had not been vetted by the Planning Department or public, and that its impact had not been weighed. After a brief discussion, Griswold withdrew the motion, which is expected to be examined soon and possibly considered by the council at later meeting.

The emergence of ADDUs in the community arose as an issue early last year when those developments started popping up along Canton Avenue in the traditionally African-American neighborhood. Developers created the projects, which are reasonably seen as purpose-built student housing, by building under the city's existing single-family detached dwelling designation. That prompted residents to voice concerns about gentrification of the area, a sentiment that many, including Councilwoman Connie Fitch Taylor, expressed during deliberations and the public hearing at Tuesday's meeting. Taylor, who lives in the area, said she recently attended a meeting with neighbors, and that none of them expressed the desire to sell their properties and that no one "wants to be surrounded by students."

Concerns about how the ordinance would affect property owners in the Canton Avenue area who might want to sell their property were also expressed by developers and multiple council members, including Dawson and Smith. 

Over the past year, the number of building permits and ADDU projects pulled and initiated has accelerated as the Planning Department and City Council moved toward defining and regulating the housing type, although both Planning Director Forrest Cotten and developers in attendance indicated that trend had slowed over the past month because of uncertainty caused by the proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance.

In other business, the City Council unanimously approved zoning text and map amendments that arose out of the Harper Avenue Focus Area Study, the first of five planned area studies the Planning Department will undertake as part of the five-year update to the city's land-use plan, CompPlan 2030. 

The amendments created two new zoning districts — Corridor Redevelopment District- East and the aforementioned Medium Density Residential District.

MDRD replaces RDD along Harper Avenue, roughly from Ross Street to Summerhill  Road and to Old Stage Road to the north. MDRD is designed to promote more housing diversity than Development District Housing (DDH), with town houses, duplexes and cottage housing developments permitted by right instead of conditionally.

CRD-E replaces RDD in the areas generally fronting East Glenn Avenue and along the south of Old Stage Road east of Summerhill Road. The district permits, by right, a range of residential uses allowed in MDRD, but also allows a much larger range of mostly conditional retail uses, like restaurants, lounges, clothing stores, small grocery stores, etc.

ADDUs are prohibited in CRD-E and conditional in MDRD.

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