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Lexington restrictions have few taking on construction of 'accessory dwelling units'


A year after they were introduced, accessory dwelling units – or ADUs – haven’t gained a foothold in Lexington.

The debate that led up to final approval of the ADU ordinance, which allows homeowners to convert garages, basements, or attics into small apartments, had critics worried that the alternative living spaces – sometimes called “secondary units” or “granny flats” – might take off too fast. On the list of concerns were things like sudden increases in short-term rentals, student housing, and how they might affect the character of neighborhoods.

Chris Taylor, with the city’s long-range planning department, said so far residents don’t need to worry about those scenarios.

"I know when we talked about this early on, there was concerns that we would have hundreds and thousands of ADUs all coming in at once, and I think we know there's enough empirical evidence nationally that this is just not the case. It's a slow, expensive, process," Taylor explained.

So slow and cumbersome, in fact, that just five have been built or are in the process of being built in Lexington. While another 15 applications had met the requirements, a number of those applicants have reversed course due to limitations on the ADU pilot program.

Taylor said, with its current restrictions, the ADU program weeds out a lot of would-be applicants.

"This isn't the start that we anticipated and certainly not where we wanted the program to be after one year, but we have an ordinance that's probably only workable for an extreme minority of people at this time," Taylor said.

With that in mind, Taylor said he may be back to ask the planning commission and potentially the council for some changes that would open up the ADU option for more homeowners and builders.