ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) come in 2 forms – AADUs are attached to the primary dwelling, and DADUs are detached.  Reno Planning Commission recently got their first look at a proposed ordinance to legalize ADUs in all single family zoning districts from SR6 and above and MF14 districts.

Washoe has allowed ADUs for years, and they haven’t been a negative force.  County zoning tends to be less dense than Reno zoning, and most of the approved ADUs have really been for extended family members.  Reno’s push for ADUs is a defacto upzoning to try to alleviate the current housing shortage.  I doubt if 20% of the Reno ADUs will be for extended family members – most will be rentals.

I was a part of Reno’s ADU Task Force that met to give input on the proposed ordinance.  Planning was tasked to ram the ordinance through by the Council, who believes ADUs are some sort of silver bullet that will alleviate all housing woes.  Planning is savvy enough to know that the ADU ordinance is mere eye candy and will do virtually nothing to add affordable housing stock.  Some take aways-

  •  ADU size was proposed to be capped at 800 SF – basically a 2 bedroom unit.  The Planning Commission seems to be looking at 500 SF – 1 bedroom.
  • The ordinance in no way addresses “Tiny Homes”, only stick build construction.
  • The ordinance prohibits ADUs in PUD zoning districts, and that’s a lot of red lining.
  • Most subdivisions have CCRs that limit land use to single family.  Changing CCRs is almost impossible in reality, so the ADU ordinance will only apply to maybe 5% of Reno properties unless individual subdivisions amend their CCRs.
  • Planning realized that this is a Pyrrhic ordinance, and ignored the impacts on school populations if it is “successful”.
  • Where ADUs are most needed to alleviate housing shortages are in the near in, dense, transit rich neighborhoods.   Most of these are zoned SR6, and almost impossible to add an ADU to.  If you are real estate shopping and want an ADU, look at corner lots.
  • Bitch and moan, and your neighborhood will be red lined out of the Ordinance.  Some neighborhoods are apparently more equal than others.  But it is politically easier that way.

I think the ADU ordinance is politically correct, ineffectual, and sort of dumb.  Some version will be adopted by the Planning Commission and the City Council because it will feel good, but it won’t have any impact on housing affordability and maybe 8 will get built.  To have a real impact, the Council would have to do the hard stuff – up-zone everything within at least the McCarran loop one level (SF9 to SF6, SF6 to MF14, etc.) and reduce the traffic and sewer fees for the areas of targeted development ( they run approximately $12,000 per unit).  I don’t see that happening – hard choices cost votes.

Who is the visionary planner in charge of Reno’s future?  Just askin’, because I really don’t know.