Paul's Note - October 8, 2021

You may be hearing the initials ADU, which stands for Accessory Dwelling Unit. Basically, these are smaller, second houses built on a lot with a larger house. My colleagues and I are considering making code changes that will make them easier to build in Tucson. 

Sometimes, these are called “mother-in-law houses,” since they are often used by family members. Groups that advocate for the elderly such as the Pima Council on Aging are for the proposal, since it allows older family member to “age in place” with neighbors and relatives close by rather than in a care facility. 

The proposal is also a way, a small way to be sure, to make more affordable housing available. 

The ADUs would be limited to 750 square feet on lots up to 7000 square feet, with 1000 square feet available for larger lots. 

I’ve gotten e-mails asking me for limitations on how such homes can be used. We are not allowed to dictate who can rent an ADU (or any of the existing accessory structures in our neighborhoods) because of the fair housing act. Also, state law prohibits us from saying that they can’t be used for short term rentals such as the ones that are posted Airbnb or Vrbo. 

I’ve also heard concerns about historic designations. There is nothing in the proposal to allow for someone to get around those rules or the review process.  

There are two issues I’d like to have addressed, however. One may seem to be a bit obscure but it’s important. I’d like to see a sunset rather than a review of the ordinance after a few years. Because of the way state law is written, it would be hard to write in more restrictions (including getting rid of the law entirely) if we find that certain aspects of the rules are not working. A sunset written into the code would allow us to modify it after a few years without running afoul of the law. 

The other thing I’d like to see worked on is height restrictions. The proposed rules allow for the ADU to be the height currently allowed in that zone, which in R-1 or R-2 could be as much as 25 feet. There has been discussion about lowering that for ADUs, either to a fixed number less than 25 feet or to the height of buildings already on site. 

This week, a member of my staff made a site visit to the Alamo Wash along with a representative of the Old Fort Lowell Neighborhood Association and staff from the Department of Transportation and Mobility (DOTM). The neighborhood was concerned because of trash and debris that have piled up in the part of the wash north of Glenn. 

We’ve gotten a lot of calls about both overgrowth and trash in the washes this year. It’s one of the unfortunate side effects of our unusual rainy season that just closed out. 

Another factor has increased the amount of trash in our waterways: homeless camps. Much of what we saw were items that would likely be from abandoned camps: blankets, clothing and shopping carts. We’ve been told that trash in the washes is up by 40% this year, which may be connected to the increase in our homeless population. 

Old Fort Lowell NA and Tucson Clean and Beautiful do clean ups of the wash twice a year. However, this year, it is too much for them. The overgrowth has made it hard to safely get around to where the trash has accumulated. There is also the issue of pieces of concrete that came off of a lined section of the wash, which a volunteer can’t be expected to dispose of. 

DOTM made a commitment to my staff to schedule a thorough clean-up of the wash, including disposing of some non-native plants that have taken root there this summer. While I’m glad we got some quick response on this, keep in mind that this was a particularly unusual case. We are having issues in all of our washes. Feel free to call my office, but also know that after this year’s monsoon, we’ll need a bit of patience to address issues in all our washes.