Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs): Bringing Back the “Granny Flat”

By Will Mackaman, Sierra Club Green Transportation Intern

Since its design in the 1890s, the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) has been used as a viable, efficient and cheap housing option for urban residents. The idea is simple: Construct a smaller, detached house – often called a granny flat, carriage house, or in-law unit – in the backyard or next to the main quarters. The purpose: To provide affordable housing for lower-income residents, to give homeowners struggling with their mortgages a means to stay where they wish to live, to increase density in a positive way, and to allow aging family members to continue living with their families.

In a recent Star Tribune article, writer Don Jacobson describes the push being made for ADUs in Minneapolis. Currently, ADUs are only allowed in the lower-income Ventura Village neighborhood. However, many urban planners and designers remain optimistic and see promise in developing more carriage houses. Jim Graham, an urban planner and housing designer, highlights some benefits of ADUs: “You can design them to be affordable and meet their particular needs but also use high-end architecture. It’s really a high-density housing option with a low impact.”

An ADU off of Summit Avenue in St. Paul Source: MinnPost, Bill Lindeke

An ADU off of Summit Avenue in St. Paul
Source: MinnPost, Bill Lindeke

Bill Lindeke, in another article featured in MinnPost, mentions Ward 10 Council Member Lisa Bender as one of the leading voices behind the ADU movement. “This is a way of increasing housing options within neighborhoods. It gives property owners more flexibility of how they can use their homes.” Bender was also quoted in a MPR interview, saying, “The goal is to create more housing options as our city’s population changes. ADUs increase housing within the city [itself], too. From a regional standpoint, I think this is a good step towards sustainability.” In terms of the problems associated with carriage houses: “I hope people see this as a way to open up neighborhoods to more people. With the right regulations in place, we can make sure that ADUs don’t have a negative impact on neighborhoods.”

Although the MinnPost article addresses some of these negative aspects associated with ADUs (such as how they might affect property values, overcrowding, and traffic), these concerns are largely unwarranted. Portland, Oregon has witnessed much success with carriage houses, and the Oregon government released a report this year highlighting those findings. Other progressive cities (Seattle, Minneapolis) see the potential as well. ADUs lead to organic and steady growth, and are a practical solution to increasing density within Minneapolis. Residents of these “carriage cottages” often give rave reviews about the privacy, affordability, and appeal they find of living in an attached housing unit.

Neighborhood design to accommodate ADUs Source: INDY Week, Bob Geary

Neighborhood design to accommodate ADUs
Source: INDY Week, Bob Geary

The Sierra Club is in strong support of expanding the zoning regulations to allow for more ADU construction around Minneapolis, as long as provisions are made not to require more additional off street parking. More parking would be counterproductive to the density benefits ADU’s provide for more sustainable land use.

We need your help! Decision makers need to know that constituents support ADUs. Please attend an upcoming public meeting:

South: Saturday, August 23, 2014

10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Hosmer Community Library

347 E 36th Street

Northeast: Wednesday, August 27, 2014

5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Eastside Neighborhood Services

1700 2nd St NE

North: Tuesday, September 16, 2014

5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

North Regional Library

1315 Lowry Ave N

Southwest: Wednesday, September 17, 2014

7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Kenwood Community Center

2101 W Franklin Ave

For more information, please contact Joshua at the Sierra Club or visit the City of Minneapolis’ website on ADUs.

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