The Accessory Dwelling Unit Survey: Method, Results and Aftermath

The Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan Contact Team (HPNPCT) has as one of its fundamental responsibilities the directive to “work on behalf of all stakeholders in the neighborhood planning area.” In fact, this directive is in the adopted bylaws of the HPNPCT, and was “mandated” by the City Planning Department in the form of the template that was provided to the residents who set up a contact team in the first place. Trusting that what stakeholders care about will lead to good decisions may be considered radical today, but it offers the only real benefit to Hyde Park in having a contact team at all.

This does, however, lay some serious demands on the HPNPCT and how it carries on its business. This article will focus on just one aspect of that directive, gathering input that helps the team to better understand stakeholders’ interests on any particular issue before recommending action.

The particular case in point is the recent SurveyMonkey questionnaire that was online from June 27 to July 21. It was a simple 9-question form that tried to gauge whether there was an interest by the stakeholders of the Hyde Park planning area in making changes to the local ordinances governing accessory dwelling units (ADUs). The survey was developed by a group of neighbors who seemed to have very different perspectives on the issues. Some seemed to be supporters, some seemed opposed and some were undecided. All had an interest in making the survey language neutral so as not to lead respondents’ answers. Some of the team who had survey experience cautioned against reading too much into the responses from such an informal survey. My reading was that the drafters of the survey felt that it could provide guidance to the contact team in its deliberations. When I completed the actual survey online, I was pleased that it was short and clear, and a little surprised that it made me stop and think about the issues and my position on them.

The survey was announced briefly in the June and July issues of the Pecan Press and posted on the Hyde Park Yahoo group listserv, the Contact Team listserv and the HPNA membership listserv. The survey was completed by 149 respondents, of whom 110 claimed to occupy their own home in Hyde Park. ADUs were defined in the survey as “Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are often called by different names. Some of the more common names include garage apartments, carriage houses, alley or granny flats, or secondary dwelling units. More accurately, an ADU contains all the necessary functions of a home within a smaller space; bedroom/living room, bathroom, and kitchen.”

The responses were almost evenly split between those who live on a property that does not have an ADU and those who do, or wish to build one. The key issue that prompted the survey in the first place was described in the survey itself: “Generally, Accessory Dwelling Units are permitted in Hyde Park on residential lots that are larger than 7000 sq. ft. The Contact Team is gathering information about the possibility of changing the neighborhood zoning code to lower the minimum lot size required for an Accessory Dwelling Unit to 5750 sq. ft.” About 40% of the respondents supported the change, about 40% opposed, about 20% were undecided.

ContactTeamSurvey0914

We asked respondents to rate a number of parameters that we hoped would help to narrow the specific issues (parking, property taxes, trees and green space, aging in place, local business, etc) that were most important to respondents, both pro and con. These responses, it was hoped, could provide the Contact Team with information that would help the undecided come to a decision. The top issues cited by all respondents as likely to get worse were parking, property taxes and trees and green spaces; issues cited as likely to get better were care for family/extended family, local business and aging in place. This list can help form strategies for addressing concerns about this issue.

The entire results file can be downloaded from the HPNA web site.

In short, although there were no startling developments exposed by the survey, it seemed to me it had done a good job for what we expected. I was looking forward to a good discussion of the issues at the Contact Team meeting on July 28.

The meeting started with several presentations on the change we have been considering with respect to ADUs, namely permitting ADUs to be built on residential lots sized greater than 5750 sq. ft. Questions were deferred to the end of the meeting when all attendees would have a chance to speak. There was a presentation on the results of the survey, which also was posted online several days earlier.

During the Q & A portion of the meeting, the survey and its results were not discussed, other than to be denounced as an unscientific, statistically non-valid instrument. It was implied that it was simply an amatuerish attempt to sway decision-makers at the city level. That ended the discussion on discerning the interests of stakeholders. There was no discussion on how to improve the data-gathering of stakeholder interests that would inform the Contact Team decision, but simply a recitation by several attendees of a litany of the ills of urban life that allowing ADUs on smaller lots in Hyde Park would exacerbate. I daresay the makeup of attendees at the meeting was even less representative of the stakeholder demographic than the survey, but that didn’t stop the members from attempting to vote down any further consideration of allowing ADUs on smaller lots in Hyde Park in spite of the published agenda that stated no votes would be taken.

A couple of takeaways for me from this experience:

  • The contact team mandate to work on behalf of all stakeholders is not a realistic expectation for any deliberative group in Hyde Park today;
  • Given the survey indication of a nearly equal split in opinions on the ADU issue, it’s probably not worth dividing the neighborhood further by advancing this proposal.

–Larry Gilg