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Holladay Journal

Holladay tackles ADUs and STRs, beginning with the youth city council

Mar 19, 2019 12:52PM ● By Justin Adams

Members of the youth council joined Mayor Rob Dahle for a discussion about ADUs and STRs. (Justin Adams/City Journals)

By Justin Adams | [email protected]

Housing supply is a hot topic in Utah these days. With the Salt Lake County population continuing to grow, there are fewer and fewer places to build new homes. Cities are being encouraged to either accept higher density developments or adopt resolutions designed to increase the housing supply. Two issues that have a big effect on the housing market are accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and short-term rentals (STRs). Holladay city officials began discussing how it will handle these issues introducing them to the youth city council.

After learning about council rules of procedure from Councilmember Paul Fotheringham, a portion of the students took on the role of city council members while the rest took on the role of citizens. 

Before jumping into the issues, Holladay Mayor Rob Dahle gave a brief overview of the background for why ADUs and STRs are important. 

“Part of the debate we’re having in the communities is higher density, increasing multi-family units — you saw that in Holladay with the Cottonwood Mall debate. That’s happening all over the county,” he explained to the youth city council. 

The mock city council meeting started with addressing ADUs.

An accessory dwelling unit is a second residential unit located on what would traditionally be a single-family lot. They can come in the form of a small cottage in the backyard, an apartment built on top of the garage or a basement apartment. 

The argument in favor of ADUs is that it’s the right of a private property owner to make extra money by renting it out. They increase the overall housing supply, which should help make buying a new home more affordable. 

Concerns about unregulated ADUs include lack of parking for additional occupants, which results in crowded streets, and changing the “nature” of the neighborhood.

The mock city council ultimately took no “action” on ADUs and moved on to a discussion of STRs. 

Short-term rentals such as Airbnb or VRBO have become an increasingly popular alternative to hotels, in which residents rent out their home to vacationers for as short as one night or as long as a few weeks.

The defense for STRs is similar to that of ADUs: Shouldn’t a property owner have the right to do what they want with their property?

However, the concerns over STRs are more numerous and poignant than ADUs. Neighbors of STRs complain that that vacationers are much more disruptive, and sometimes even dangerous, than their regular neighbors. They never know who might be staying there.

“When I put myself in their position, I can really empathize with their concerns. When I move into a neighborhood I want to know who my neighbors are. And now all of a sudden I have a house in my neighborhood that’s almost like a hotel room,” said Dahle.

“They make a lot of noise, they take up parking, they produce a lot of trash,” added Fotheringham. 

One of the youth city council members, Preston Palmer, said he has read stories about STRs being used for sex trafficking. “I’m sure most people that use Airbnbs are good people and just looking for a place to stay while they’re out of town, but I think there does need to be more regulation,” he said. 

Unlike ADUs, STRs don’t help address the housing shortage. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that they worsen the shortage as homes that might otherwise be bought by families are instead turned into rental units. Fotheringham cited an NPR story about how the introduction of STRs into the French Quarter area of New Orleans to accommodate tourists resulted in the gentrification of the traditionally black neighborhood.

As much as Holladay might like to regulate STRs, the main obstacle is enforcement. State law prohibits any city from tracking down illegal STRs through their online postings (of which there are hundreds for Holladay). So the only way the city can enforce its relevant ordinances is if they receive complaints directly from the neighbor of an STR. Instituting any kind of licensing process through the city also poses its own logistical challenges.

“Do we have the staff to handle the permits? How are we going to collect fees and enforce it? It’s a whole process. There’s all sorts of stuff we’d like to do and we don’t have the resources to enforce it,” said Dahle.

The “real” Holladay City Council will be tackling these complicated issues starting in April after receiving some clarity from the state legislature, according to Dahle.