Last year, at the request of Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard, Carmel’s Dept. of Community Services proposed several changes that would make it easier to add accessory dwelling units — also known as in-law quarters or granny flats — to address a lack of affordable housing in the city.
But after months of discussion, review of community feedback and revisions by the Carmel Plan Commission and recommended changes by the Carmel city council’s land use committee, some Carmel city councilors said they believe the ordinance has become so watered down it doesn’t change much about the existing process to build an ADU or realistically add affordable housing options.
At a Feb. 1 meeting of the Carmel City Council’s land use and special studies committee, several councilors said they didn’t see enough of a reason to support the current version of the ordinance.
“Nobody from the city has made a compelling argument to make these changes,” said city councilor Laura Campbell, who serves on the committee. “We don’t have dozens of requests (for ADUs). We’ve had no requests in the last year.”
ADUs can be a structure separate from the primary dwelling or attached to it, such as above a garage or in a basement. ADUs provide a separate, independent living space with its own entrance.
Currently, all types of ADUs must be approved by the Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals. The BZA has approved five ADUs since 2015. ADUs are permitted without BZA review in certain areas of the city, including in the Old Town overlay area and the Village of WestClay.
“The ordinance was designed to make it easier to build ADUs, not because of market demand, but as a housing option that we think will benefit the community, and which will benefit the community,” City of Carmel spokesperson Dan McFeely said. “That residents are choosing to see this as something to fear is unfortunate but not surprising, given that anytime a change is proposed, our residents seem to focus on the downside.”
As originally proposed, the ADU ordinance included a set of standards that — when followed — would not require ADUs to go before the BZA for approval. It also stated that 20 percent of lots in new residential developments with 10 or more lots of 1 acre or less include an ADU in some form.
The original proposal received some support, but many Carmel residents expressed concerns that ADUs would alter existing neighborhoods by adding traffic, noise and stress on infrastructure. The Builders Association of Greater Indianapolis stated that it opposed the ADU requirement in new subdivisions because it would hinder consumer choice and increase construction costs.
As it deliberated the proposal, the plan commission removed the requirement for ADUs in new neighborhoods and added a requirement for detached ADUs to receive special use approval from a BZA hearing officer. Then, the council’s land use committee recommended that detached ADUs must be approved by the full BZA — as is the case now — and that attached ADUs must receive approval from a BZA hearing officer.
The result is that the latest version of the ordinance only differs substantially from the current ADU process by adding development standards and requiring attached ADUs to go before a hearing officer rather than the full BZA, which comes with a much lower application fee. The application fee for a detached ADU would also be lower than it is now.
City councilor Tony Green, who is not on the committee but participated in the meeting, said the ordinance could offer a “minor solution” but that it doesn’t really address the city’s lack of affordable housing.
“We’re trying to argue this is an option or this is an alternative for affordable housing when this isn’t going to address the problem at all,” Green said. “It’s more trying to give kudos and say we did something, but it’s not really addressing the strategic problem that there’s no affordable housing, and ADUs isn’t the way to do it.”
Brainard said Feb. 2 the change he is most disappointed about is the removal of the requirement for new neighborhoods to have ADUs.
The committee did not vote on the ordinance but is expected to do so before the Carmel City Council’s next meeting on Feb. 15. A committee meeting date had not been announced as of press time. The Carmel City Council will have the final vote on the ordinance.