Can This Be Built In My Backyard?

by Nena Perry-Brown

Although an overhaul to DC’s zoning regulations enacted in 2016 aimed to expand homeowners’ ability to construct accessory and alley dwellings on their lots, the reality has been far from a simple process for many willing to go through the zoning, regulatory and permitting approvals needed.

Recently, a tool debuted in Los Angeles that tells homeowners whether an additional rear dwelling is permitted on their lots, allowing them to skip the time-consuming consultations that are usually precursors to this type of construction. While the Cover tool is provided by a start-up that also offers design, permitting and building services for users, the idea of having a simple answer to the question of whether and what kind of building would be feasible is one that many DC homeowners would likely welcome. 

The arduous process involved with constructing an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) may be discouraging to homeowners in DC. Last August, UrbanTurf spoke with architects who hadn’t seen a surge in property owners following through on these type of projects since the zoning regulations were relaxed.

“There’s still kind of a hurdle if you’re doing a garage on your property with a living unit in it,” architect Jennifer Fowler told UrbanTurf. “If you want to have a rental, you have to go through [Board of Zoning Adjustment]; it’s just a different relief that’s needed.” 

Having to go through zoning approvals to rent out a newly-constructed accessory building seems to run counter to the intent of the amended regulations, which many touted as being a path to creation of more housing units. However, zoning is not the only stumbling block for these ADUs.

“Folks are interested, however the price per square foot for what they are building is oftentimes higher than other types of construction,” Michael Cross of architectural firm R. Michael Cross Design Group explained to UrbanTurf. “So several folks have gone through schematic design and some exploration with us for feasibility, but ultimately have backed out when it comes to cost.” Cross has noticed a slight uptick in interest from potential clients this year, however, and has dwellings on the road to completion right now.

Maybe what DC homeowners really need is a company to cover the cost of construction in exchange for rent like the one that recently debuted in Portland.

See other articles related to: zoning, alley dwellings, adu, accessory dwellings

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/an-adu-tool-dc-residents-could-use/13687

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