The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

IC officials look to change codes on accessory dwelling units for more affordable housing

City staff hopes the changes will allow more flexibility in the construction of units and lead to an increased supply of housing.
Cody Blissett
The Iowa City Council holds a meeting in Iowa City on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023.

The City of Iowa City is looking to tackle the issue of housing affordability and supply through a more creative method: accessory dwelling units, or ADUs for short.

An ADU is also known as an in-law suite, or a secondary dwelling unit, and is a separate, smaller house built next to or attached to a primary dwelling unit.

City staff is hoping that amending the codes around ADUs to allow more flexibility in the construction of them will increase housing supply and thus make the city’s housing market more affordable.

The proposed amendments to ADU codes were originally included in a series of zoning code amendments aimed to increase housing supply, but they were excluded from those amendments to garner more public input.

City staff presented the ADU code amendments to the Planning and Zoning Commission at its Oct. 4 meeting. There are nine proposed amendments in total.

The first two amendments allow ADUs to be built in zones they previously were not allowed in. The other amendments are related to increasing flexibility and leniency with design standards, including parking requirements, bedroom requirements, size limits, and appearance requirements.

The most contentious of the nine amendments was that of owner occupancy requirements. The city’s code currently states that the owner of the primary dwelling unit and the ADU must live on-site.

City staff proposed the removal of this requirement, meaning both the ADU and the primary dwelling unit could be rented out to two different people, and the owner does not have to reside in either.

These kinds of code changes regarding ADUs have been made in other Iowa cities as well. In 2021, Cedar Rapids made similar code changes with Des Moines following suit in 2022.

This specific amendment was met with mixed reactions from the crowd at the meeting. Some community members stated concerns over too much density in neighborhoods, especially those in the University of Iowa area.

Another concern was that single-family homes would be taken away from families looking to start their lives in the city by investors who simply want to rent out two units on a single lot to short-term renters, such as university students.

Deanna Thomann, a commissioner on the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, said she thinks the northside neighborhood, which is near downtown Iowa City, is already dense and diverse enough. She said she feels this change would harm the cohesive look and feel of the neighborhood.

On the other side of the coin, other community members spoke to the benefits of ADUs, specifically for families who wish to have elderly or loved ones who have disabilities live close to them. Andy Martin, who owns a local construction company, said this is often what he sees ADUs used for when he is asked to construct them.

Martin said removing the design and parking requirements for ADUs would make the cost to construct them cheaper so more people could get use out of them for more reasonable prices.

In addition, Martin said ADUs are built rarely, so there would likely not be a massive boom in ADUs being built across Iowa City if these amendments are approved. According to city staff’s presentation at the meeting, 52 ADUs were built in the last three decades out of around 10,000 eligible units.

William Gorman, a member of the county’s Livable Community for Successful Aging Board, said ADUs have many other benefits as well. Because they are smaller, they are often more cost effective and environmentally friendly because they take fewer materials to construct and less energy to heat.

They can also benefit people of all ages and can be adapted for many different uses, Gorman said.

“They could offer young people entry-level housing choices [and] they can enable families to expand beyond their primary home,” Gorman said. “They can provide empty nesters the option of moving into a smaller space while renting out their larger house or letting an adult child and his or her family reside in it.”

Ultimately, the concern over investors running rampant with ADU usage led to the Planning and Zoning Commission voting 4-3 to recommend approval of all but the owner occupancy amendment to the city council.

However, commissioners agreed that they would revisit that specific amendment in a few years to see if there have been any problems with ADUs.

Now that the commission has weighed in, the amendments will be presented before the city council during a public hearing on Nov. 6, said Kirk Lehmann, the city’s associate planner.

The city council will have to consider and vote on the amendments two times before they can be officially acted upon at the third consideration, meaning the earliest these amendments may be approved is at the city council’s Dec. 12 meeting.

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About the Contributors
Isabelle Foland
Isabelle Foland, News Editor
Isabelle Foland is a second-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication and minoring in Spanish. She is a second-year news reporter at The Daily Iowan, reporting mainly on Iowa City City Council. She is from Missouri Valley, Iowa and has reported for her hometown paper prior to her time at The DI.
Cody Blissett
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.