A.D.U. Doesn’t Stand For Awesome Daiquiri Umbrella

by lizard

No, it stands for Additional Dwelling Unit, and while that may not sound like something controversial, it most certainly is—just ask your city council representative.

The bigger question ADU’s bring up is how to grow in a valley with finite space to develop: sprawl, or density. To think about this, I’d like to offer a little example of infill development that doesn’t seem very well thought out.

This example includes pictures, so if this issue interests you, please click for more.

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If you look at the picture below, you might assume the walkway goes to the white house with the red shutters.  Well, that walkway use to be a part of the property where the white house sits, but a few years ago, whoever owns the property must have decided to split the lot, because that walkway actually goes to the brand new house that was built behind the white house, which you can barely see in the picture.

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This next picture is a shot of the five bedroom house that was built in what use to be the backyard of the white house with red shutters.  In between the fence and the house is one of two parking spots for cars.

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This shot shows the other side of the house.  As you can see, there is a car (which you can barely see) parked to the right of the garbage can.  If the shot panned out, you would be able to see how a car parked in the alley like bottlenecks the space in the alley, making in sometimes difficult to drive past.

20120622-154714.jpg

I assume the walkway that accesses the main street that the white house with red shutters faces (Stephens) is intended to give the house more parking if needed, because it’s a five bedroom house.

Parking is one reason this infill seems poorly thought out. And I wonder who would actually want to buy this house (I believe they were asking over 300K) considering there’s no yard, and it’s crammed in the alley.

This is one of the fears people seem to have about density—that it won’t be very well thought out.

But ADU’s are slightly different than the above example of awkward infill, and there are increasing economic realities that make the ability to build an additional dwelling unit crucial. People are having to get more creative to subsidize mortgages and rent, or to find economically viable solutions for taking care of aging parents or housing struggling post-graduates laden with debt and shitty job prospects.

So I support the difficult work of our city officials in trying to figure out how to address this contentious issue, because it ain’t easy, and it makes some people really pissed off.


  1. KC Whistle

    ADUs turn your owner occupied single family home into a duplex income property. And your quiet tree lined street into a Parking lot.

    • lizard19

      thank you for the inaccurate fear-mongering–is that all you got?

      • I actually agree. Looking at the example you have, I wonder how much of the surface area on that space, alley to street, is covered with building or asphalt or cement?

        Major cities draw lightening storms because of the radiant heat caused by so much pavement.

        Water quality decreases as run off into sewers heads on down to the river.

        The city has come up with all sorts of ideas for infill, citing “affordable housing” yet, as you show – that monstrosity is $300K.

        On Linnea Lane, down the street, I’m seeing where the developer got all kinds of concessions – one being an ultra narrow road that fire won’t even go down.

        There was supposed to be a pathway. Never there. Never planted required trees – and not only that, they didn’t plant grass for lots of it and it’s been cited for weeds two years in a row (at least).

        The porches are cartoons – and what I mean by that, they’re barely wide enough to hold a chair. the back porches hang over an irrigation ditch that takes up the entire what would be yard.

        I am not joking or exaggerating, and that isn’t even the half of it.

        THe developer got all those concessions in the cry of “affordable housing” – he was never able to sell them all so he had to rent them. Well, now that he’s gone bankrupt (oh, wait – there’s a good one coming) and a bunch of people are getting evicted.

        Affordable, right?

        Well, of course, the buyer is going to now sell the homes. Guess who the buyer was? One of the partners of the development firm that went belly-up.

        Before the city tries to rezone the entire city by adding accessory units to each and every property (and in the process starting up the realtors and banks on writing up template proformas so that they can start selling property as “future rental income” towards the mortgage payment) I want to see some sort of true economic analysis on whether what they propose will provide affordable (defined as costing either 3x the median to 80% of missoula’s income, or 1/3 of the gross take home monthly pay) housing.

        Because nothing has so far. Right now we’re providing affordable housing for people from California who find our prices so relatively low that they’re moving here and one spouse then takes the weekly plane back to San Fran to work Monday through Friday for the California wages, while the other spouse holds the fort and kids in check.

  2. Buzz Feedback

    My personal favorite is when Jaffe, et al roll out the “care for aging parents” argument for the zoning changes. These things are going to be full of college students — just like the rentals they are attached to. The absentee landlords will pocket the $$$ and the neighbors will be SOL.

  3. Ryan Morton

    I think everyone should reread the zoning ordinance on ADUs, compare it to the proposed changes, then judge. I don’t believe at any level that all lots will qualify for an ADU. I’m not sure if even most would.

    • I don’t know if that is the point, Ryan.

      We’ve been doing all kinds of things in the name of “affordable housing” (or now “senior parents”) for a long time, none of it bringing down the median price of housing into the realm of the median income here in Missoula.

      If they want to do something in the name of affordable housing then maybe they should do some sort of environmental analysis (those include an analysis of all factors, including social and economic) then maybe that should occur first to demonstrate that the outcome is the desired effect they are touting to sell the plan.

      • Ryan Morton

        I think it is the point. Politicians will support or oppose ADUs for a myriad of reasons, but looking at the law and proposed changes gives me the sense that the city isn’t getting the level of infill it wanted to slow sprawl.

        Anyway, the “affordable” issue is an important component. And there are several really poorly designed projects that passed in the name of “affordable.” I think MHA and hoeWORD, however, have done much better to incorporate affordable with other important elements, particularly environmental.

        Anyhow, an ADU will never go through the same level review as a subdivision like on Linnea Lane. So the questions really should focus on the law itself and its enforcement when the building permit is reviewed, which isn’t negligible. The review should be systematic without concessions. A zoning variance requires a showing of a hardship, so no one can strike a deal on that.

        • Ryan Morton

          Correction: homeWORD. That was an unfortunate autocorrect fail.

          Apologies.

        • I fully support truly affordable housing and yeppers – WORD and the Missoula Housing Authority are fine examples of success not only in meeting the goal of providing affordable housing, but doing it with style, innovation and energy efficiency.

          They city should focus on its successes.

          Affordable housing has definite meaning and purpose – none of which are going to be met allowing ADU’s everywhere.

          For once and all – if they want to say this 2,377 attempt at allowing something in the name of affordable housing, perhaps they should do a full environmental analysis on how that decision will effect affordability for those making 80 – 110% of Missoula’s median income.

          You’d think there’d be no problem with that – the city requesting environmental analysis of all kinds of stuff is a pretty common thing.

  4. KC Whistle

    What else did you want? Neighborhoods are built and approved with a certain design that considers street and intersection capacity, for both parking and traffic, public safety access especially for fire, a certain sized sewer line with a finite capacity, essentially an area for living with a capacity of X. ADUs are great when they are allowed in new neighborhoods whose design incorporates them; additional parking requirements on site, wider alleys not just for b garbage and fire but to be used as a second lot access two or three times a day by each resident of each alley unit.

    Btw, the opportunity for enhanced income is built right into the cost of these lots, just as if they were duplex lots. Otherwise, It’s a great way to make money taking advantage of your neighbors and neighborhood. Buy a home with a nice backyard. Build a garage mahal with an adu looming over the neighbors. Then sell the income property to an out of state buyer who will Rent the house to eight kids and the adu to four.

    • KC Whistle

      And move to a nice five acre lot in Ravalli. Drive by the old hood twice a year and see how the dominoes fall, lot by lot.

      Sacrificing the built environment on the twin altars of density and affordability isn’t a good idea. There is a reason people bought there in the first place. There are reasons neighborhoods are valued. Preserve at least some unique qualities that attracted people to Missoula neighborhoods in the first place.

  5. KC Whistle

    Require owner occupancy of the main dwelling unit as a condition for renting the “mother in law” apt. It’s hard to enforce but it will change the scenario.

    • They are saying that – but it does require actual enforcement too – and a city attorney who is willing to do the same.

  6. lizard19

    I think it’s interesting that property rights and limited government don’t seem to be as important when it comes to situations that are perceived by some to lessen the quality of life where people live.

    • KC Whistle

      City life has its trade-offs, does it not? We don’t allow pig farms either. Your simple minded comment about “property rights” proves you have no understanding of what city life, planning and zoning, or property rights are all about. Public safety and property values are enhanced by good planning, and when there is predictable use property rights are enhanced. Taking advantage of your neighbors isn’t respecting property rights or the social contract urban life requires. But we both know you don’t give a flip about property rights, don’t we?

      • lizard19

        I made that comment to see what kind of response I’d get. you don’t disappoint, KC.

        yes, city life has trade-offs. like if you buy a home in the University district, you may want to expect that there will be college students in that neighborhood.

        but that reality didn’t stop a bunch of University home owners from trying to impose some nanny-state occupancy standard limiting how many unrelated people can live in one house.

        like most things, what this comes down to is money. you said it yourself, protecting property value is a major goal of those who decry any kind of infill, like you essentially did in your first comment.

        you make an interesting assumption that building an ADU is “taking advantage of your neighbors.” I think building ADU’s is probably usually about making more money, and isn’t that the American Way?

        what do you have against Americans trying to make money? is it a violation of this “social contract” you speak of? I’d like to hear more about the social contract.

        oh, one more thing: what leads you to think I “don’t give a flip about property rights”?

  7. cosmicgarden

    I can appreciate the points made and good intentions but one of the biggest irritants I have with the recent building codes and zoning trend is that small dwellings have been made illegal. Not all of us want huge houses but the only way to live in a small house is to end up in a trailer park. Jay Shafer of the Tumbleweed Tiny House company talks about the politics of tiny houses here:http://youtu.be/hq9xf0OhaVI




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