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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Basement apartments coming under city’s microscope

Oct 31, 2017 10:12AM ● By Cassie Goff

Residents are worried that an ADU ordinance will densify Cottonwood Heights. (Cassie Goff/City Journals)

Over the past few months, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) have been a hot topic of conversation for city leaders and residents within Cottonwood Heights. Commonly referred to as mother-in-law apartments, ADUs are currently not under any code within the city. As city staff members attempt to draft an ordinance concerning these living spaces, much feedback has been received. 

Accessory Dwelling Units are currently defined as a “residential dwelling unit meant for one additional single family located on the same lot as a single-family home, either within the same building…or in a detached building.” 

The issue

There is no code for Cottonwood Heights that addresses ADUs. For that reason, every ADU within the city is technically considered illegal. That includes the creation and operation of such living spaces. 

“This has been brewing for years,” Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore said. “The problem is that these ADUs are illegal; any type of basement apartment is illegal in the city.”

“Hundreds of these already exist,” Councilman Mike Shelton said during a weekly city council meeting. The approval process for ADUs “must be designed to conform with all current codes.”

“I hate a system that favors people who are willing to break the law,” Shelton continued. “That’s what we have right now.”

With the creation of an ADU ordinance, the existing ADUs should be able to come into compliance. For an ADU approval, the applicant would need to meet certain requirements, which would include a building inspection.


City staff members originally began to look at drafting an ADU ordinance earlier this year. On July 11, staff members reported to the Cottonwood Heights City Council that they had begun work on the ordinance. By July 18, an ADU ordinance was still being drafted to help existing ADUs “come into compliance within a few year’s period of time,” Senior Planner Mike Johnson said.

On August 2, the Cottonwood Heights Planning Commission conversed on the topic as it was listed as a discussion item on the meeting agenda. They discussed the pending ordinance regarding the permitting and regulation of ADUs.

On Sept. 6, an initial public hearing was held. Throughout the rest of September and October, much public comment was centered on this issue during city council meetings, planning commission meetings and through email. 

Currently, public input is still being sought. 


Many residents have voiced concern about the drafted ordinance. Some of the common concerns include enforcement (if the code is enforced to the fullest extent, families may be displaced), parking, affordable housing, densification and public safety. 

Resident Nancy Hardy had some questions for the city council to take into consideration on Aug. 22. “How does the city benefit from the ADU? How do you keep the zones as single family zones? Does the ADU fit into the general plan and vision of Cottonwood Heights and how will it be enforced?”

“Neighborhoods could double in density,” Hardy continued. “Would there be a limit on how many ADUs could be in the city and how many people could live in each? What is the required percentage of affordable housing and what dollar is considered affordable housing for Cottonwood Heights?”

On Sept. 12, Hardy commented to the council once more. “ADUs are like any other kind of densifying development, but they are subtle. A few will be built in neighborhoods each year and each ADU changes the neighborhood just a little bit. They will not instantly change a city but the effects are long term.”

Resident Teven Grace had some questions as well. “How does this serve to enrich and sustain this community? We should not be responsible for those who can’t afford to live here. This city is intended for quiet suburban living, rather than conversion of single family homes to multi-family homes.”

Resident Jen Fredrickson echoed these comments. “I don’t see how this is going to help our community.”

The draft

While continually drafting an ADU ordinance, city staff members including Johnson and Community and Economic Development Director Brian Berndt have taken resident feedback into consideration.

Life safety standards are a top priority for this ordinance. “We need to make things safe for people,” Johnson said. 

“About nine other cities have adopted an ordinance for ADUs,” Cullimore said. “Ours needs to be effective. If it’s not, then we shouldn’t pass it.”

The current draft of the ADU ordinance is available on the city website. The draft emphasizes that ADUs “in single-family residential zones are an important tool in the overall housing goals and needs of the city, and allow for alternative and flexible housing options in owner-occupied single-family residences.”

The draft states that the purposes of this ordinance are to: “A. Preserve and enhance life safety standards required for residential occupancy through the creation of a regulatory process for accessory dwelling units; B. Provide housing options for individuals and families in all stages of life and/or with moderate income who might otherwise have difficulty finding adequate housing within the city; C. Provide opportunities to offset rising housing costs and promote reinvestment in existing single-family neighborhoods; D. Preserve the character of single family neighborhoods through adequate standards governing ADUs.”

Many types of ADUs are defined in the current draft; including: ADU, attached ADU, detached ADU, flag lot, owner occupancy, principal dwelling unit, short-term rental. The zoning for each of these ADUs is defined as well.

In order to come into compliance, the draft states that an “attached ADU…may be allowed as a permitted use upon completion of an ADU application form…payment of fees, property inspection, signed affidavit and any necessary building permits.” Detached ADUs may come into compliance with a few additional requirements. 

One of the requirements to apply to every ADU is “two off-street parking spaces in addition to required parking for the principal dwelling unit. In no case shall fewer than four total off-street parking stalls be provided for any property with an ADU.” and Minutes/2017/ADU ORDINANCE DRAFT 8.15.17.pdf

What now?

City leaders are still looking for input on the drafted ADU ordinance. Many residents have requested a page for other comments to be posted, so they can understand what other people are thinking throughout the city. That page is currently being constructed and will be open to the public soon.  

On Nov. 8, from 6:30–8:30 p.m., Cottonwood Heights will hold an informal town hall about ADUs. City staff members will be seeking input from as many residents as possible, specifically relating to the preliminary draft of the ordinance. The event will take place at City Hall, on 2277 E. Bengal Blvd. 

The ordinance will not be considered for approval until January. 

For more information, read last month’s article “New ordinance for accessory buildings,” visit the city website or social media, or contact any of the following people:

Planning Department Contact: Senior Planner, Mike Johnson — [email protected]

City Council Contact: District 1, Mike Shelton — [email protected]

District 2, Scott Bracken — [email protected]

District 3, Mike Peterson — [email protected]

District 4, Tee Tyler — [email protected]

Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore — [email protected]