ADU policy attempts to undo the racist and classist zoning in Lexington neighborhoods

·3 min read

In his September 10th op-ed, Walt Gaffield espouses his opposition to the proposed Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance, complete with plenty of exclusionary dog whistles. His piece is filled with implications that there is a problem with multifamily housing near single family homes, or that this will lead to cars filling our streets along with sewer overflows. This is just baseless fear mongering all in service to maintain exclusionary neighborhoods.

Mr. Gaffield starts off with bringing up Portland and California re-legalizing ADUs, using a slippery-slope fallacy to imply that pretty soon we will have multiple ADUs on all properties. Both places have incredible housing shortages and saw so little development with owner occupancy requirements that they later removed them or even allowed more units to be built on lots. Disregarding the fallacy, I find it hard to believe that a city and a whole state would lower requirements if building ADUs caused so many problems. Most of his piece is around the implication that these will be built everywhere if allowed. Portland allowed ADUs for a decade and only saw 20-35 permits issued per year until they started to actively incentivize them. Assuming Lexington will see more ADUs than a city twice its size, all while having a more restrictive ordinance is asinine. The fact is that not one neighborhood, let alone one street, will see many, if any, of these.

Parking and stormwater complaints as there are the most common complaints brought up against any development. Mr. Gaffield starts off these complaints by contradicting himself, implying that street parking will be full but also people will be paving over their backyards to add parking. Is there not going to be enough parking that it spills onto the street or will every backyard be paved over? The proposed ordinance does not prevent adding additional parking, it just doesn’t require it if it isn’t wanted or needed. Neighborhoods around UK complain that duplex conversions lead to “paving over backyards” but no one ever acknowledges that this is a requirement from the city due to onerous parking minimums. We should let homeowners decide if they want to add more parking or not.

He then goes on to complain that there is no public input required for building an ADU. We don’t require any public comment for building a new house, or for building a garage, or even for an addition that would be larger than the proposed 800 sq. ft. max for ADUs. If an addition that adds a bedroom and bathroom doesn’t require public input, why should ADUs? If your neighbor can take on roommates without issue, what’s the problem if they are suddenly in a separate unit?

What Mr. Gaffield describes is preserving exclusionary single family only neighborhoods. Anyone with the most basic understanding of the history of zoning knows that it is based in racist and classist exclusion. Single family only zoning is just putting up a wall for anyone who can’t afford a whole house. Many of Lexington’s older neighborhoods were built before single family only zoning was invented. These neighborhoods have a mix of housing types, from single family homes to fourplexes, and yes, even ADUs. And they are some of our most desirable neighborhoods. If they are such a problem why don’t we hear complaints about the ADUs we have now? I for one think we should allow our neighborhoods to grow and evolve. I think people should have a choice in how they build their house. I think we should start addressing our housing shortage because pushing growth further and further out is unsustainable, financially and environmentally. I want my children to be able to live in Lexington when they grow up. Legalizing ADUs is the smallest possible step to adding more housing in Lexington, if we can’t even do something like this then we might as well start putting up “No Vacancy” on all of the “Welcome to Lexington” signs.

Blake Hall is an advocate for better urban design and walkability who blogs at Build A Better Lexington and is a member of Lexingtonians United for Livability.

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