Accessory Dwelling Units, Wheat Ridge Style

On July 11, Wheat Ridge City Council adopted an ordinance legalizing Accessory Dwelling Units, aka ADUs. After six years of community engagement and two lengthy study sessions discussing the best regulations for Wheat Ridge, I’m very familiar with what ADUs are and what they aren’t. However, many of my neighbors might not know the basics or know why the majority of Wheat Ridge residents support thoughtfully regulated ADUs. With the wild west of social media, there are lots of misperceptions and rumors. I hope this is a helpful introduction to our unique approach to ADUs.

ADUs are smaller, independent living spaces on the same property as a single-family home. They can be attached (such as in the basement) or detached (like a small carriage house). You might be surprised to learn that ADUs already exist in your neighborhood. Some were legally built before there was a zoning code while others were simply built at some point without permission. Thanks to this ordinance, most of these existing ADUs have a pathway for legal occupancy and for homeowners to get permits for repairs or improvements.

But what about new ADUs? Council worked hard to make sure the final ordinance addresses existing needs in our city (intergenerational living, affordable housing and economic flexibility) while also respecting neighborhood values and feedback from the community. Highlights from the ordinance:

• New ADUs have an owner-occupancy requirement for either the main house or the ADU.

• ADUs are restricted to 1,000 square feet or 50 percent of the gross square footage of the main house, whichever is smaller, with the exception of basement ADUs.

• ADUs are allowed in all residential, mixed-use and agricultural zone districts.

• ADUs need to comply with existing requirements for setbacks, bulk plane, height and density restrictions, and lot coverage.

• Building permit applications for new ADUs may be submitted starting Aug. 15.

• Properties in the city with existing dwelling units that may qualify as ADUs will have two years to apply for legal ADU status.

Here are a few real-life examples from our community:

• My friend Steve’s aging father can now legally occupy the 400-square-foot “cottage” on Steve’s half-acre property near 29th and Pierce. Both the main house and smaller structure were built in 1960, before the city incorporated.

• During her testimony at the public hearing, Mandy shared her family’s plan to build a small ADU in their backyard for their oldest daughter who is starting college this fall but can’t afford to rent her own apartment.

There are a lot of nuances so if you’re curious, you can find ADU applications along with all requirements and restrictions at: www.ci.wheatridge.co.us/ADU

Contact Wheat Ridge District 2 City Councilor Rachel Hultin at 303-667-0609.

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