The Saint-Paul ADUs… and why aren’t there more?
With St. Paul having recently announced his intention to tinker again with his Accessory Housing Unit (ADU) ordinance, it seemed like the right time to try and determine how many people took advantage of the ADU ordinance at the. city scale passed at the end of 2018, and see what they’ve built. So, on a beautiful recent Saturday, I set off on my bike in search of the 12 ADUs that were authorized and built in Saint-Paul according to the rules established in 2018.
According to data obtained from the city, 10 of the 12 ADUs completed are single units, and on my drive, I discovered that all but one were of the garage type. Styles and sizes vary somewhat, but the format is roughly the same: a garage full of driveways with an internal staircase up to the ADU on the second floor. The alley side photos sometimes lack cool features, but here are the public sides of the St. Paul’s garage ADUs:
The owner of one of these units saw me taking pictures in the alley and graciously offered me a tour of her house. She had recently retired from a teaching career in another state and her ADU was in the backyard of her daughter’s house. She told me it was the perfect solution as it offered the benefits of multigenerational living without everyone having to live under the same roof. At 784 square feet, her apartment is a very spacious one-person home and includes a living room, dining room, large kitchen, full bathroom, washer / dryer area, pantry, storage cupboard. and a 12’x12 ‘bedroom. Here are some views of the interior and the main house:
The only detached ADU that wasn’t built over a garage was also designed for multigenerational living. This property has also seen the removal of an old garage, but no new garage has been built in its place. Instead, the owner built a bungalow in the backyard for her parents, who also moved to St. Paul from out of state to be closer to her family. The entrance to this ADU faces the backyard rather than the driveway, and the large building behind the ADU is actually across the driveway.
The two remaining ADUs on my tour were tethered units, meaning they are tethered to the main housing. So far, St. Paul does not have any of the third variety of ADUs allowed, which are indoor units located entirely inside the main housing. The first of the adjoining units was built as an addition to a bungalow and the other is part of an adjoining garage:
City data indicates that in addition to these 13 DSUs, there are five projects that are at some stage of permit review, six properties for which the owner has withdrawn an application or otherwise suspended or abandoned the project. , four that did not progress beyond the investigation stage, and two properties with pre-2018 structures that were legalized after the fact under existing rules.
The Planning Commission is currently reviewing UDAs as part of its “4-Unit Infill Housing Zoning Study,” which aims to implement housing and land use policies in the city’s 2040 plan. The study’s goals include “increased housing affordability, diversified housing options, and moderate increases in residential density as a means of addressing the current housing shortage and dealing with the next decade of population growth.”
As part of phase I of the study, a number of adjustments to the ADU rules were proposed. These include removing the rule allowing ADUs only on lots of at least 5,000 square feet and relaxing the current limit of 800 square feet for ADUs, to allow them to have up to 75 percent of the size of the primary dwelling on the property.
These would be positive changes in terms of flexibility, and ADUs should receive more attention during Phase II of the 1-4 Unit Infill Housing Study. But it’s unclear whether these changes will result in the construction of more ADUs. Conversations with architects and ADU owners indicate that the cost of construction is a barrier, if not the main one, to building more ADUs, the cost of a model garage (including the garage) typically starting at around $ 200,000. Detached ADUs are, after all, self-contained, fully-equipped homes, which are made more expensive in Minnesota because of the cost of their insulation.
An architect who planned ADUs in St. Paul and elsewhere told me that the pace of construction here matches experiences elsewhere, where it has taken time for people to learn what is now legal and possible. Another design professional told me that people interested in ADUs like to see examples and suggested that an increase in local examples would lead to more ADUs being built. If so, perhaps an ADU-organized bike tour could help spread the word.