Accessory Dwelling Units Denied (Reno)

The Reno City Council today considered a proposal to allow “Accessory Dwelling Units” (aka ADU’s) on properties within Reno that meet certain requirements.

Accessory Dwelling Unit requirements:

  • This applies to only single family home properties of at least 9,000 sqft.
  • The ADU must match the style of the residence.  It can only be 12′ tall.
  • Setbacks to the property lines would need to be at least 5′.
  • The ADU could be free standing or attached to the residence.

There are 12,661 properties that would be eligible to add an ADU within Reno.

The Reno Planning Commission denied the proposal unanimously since there is no support in the Re-Imagine Reno plan that would support increasing densities in existing neighborhoods.  The commissioners did suggest revisions in case the City Council wanted to approve the plan.  The September 9 meeting finished after midnight.

Council discussion (disclaimer: statements may not be exactly verbatim);

  • “The American Planning Association supports ADU’s as a way to provide diverse housing options.” (Heather Mansos [sp], City planner)
  • “I’m concerned about changing the character of the neighborhoods and I do not think this will address our affordable housing crisis.” (Mayor Schieve)
  • “Might these be built and used for Air BnB so that they do little to help Reno residents?” (Councilman Jardon)
  • “Will we have waste water treatment capacity if so many new dwellings are approved?” (Councilman Jardon)
  • “Approvals would be required for each one so that there would be the ability to limit the number if needed due to waste water treatment capacity.” (Mansos)
  • Guest quarters are presently allowed.  These are similar to the ADU’s but are not allowed to have a full kitchen. (Mansos)

Public comment was overwhelmingly negative.  Twenty three residents spoke in opposition and 127 additional comment cards were received in opposition.  Most of the speakers were from the Newlands neighborhood with some from Country Club Acres.  They made the following points.

  • ADU’s threaten to spoil the character of the historic neighborhood.
  • The streets are narrow.  Parking is already a problem.
  • Allowing ADU’s is not consistent with the master plan.
  • The older neighborhoods are more vulnerable to fire due to trees and home construction that is not fire retardant.  More dwellings will increase the risk of a fire starting.
  • Code enforcement is already very inadequate.  How will the new ADU’s be controlled?
  • Changing the plan with a “text amendment” is a backdoor way to make such a major change.  We should formally change the zoning.

There were six speakers supporting the ADU proposal.  They made the following points.

  • ADU rent will not be low enough to count as “affordable housing”, but if they cost $800/month, they would be affordable to a worker making $15/hour.
  • There are many seniors that would like to live close to their family members for care and support.  They want a “cottage” close to family.
  • A homeowner with an ADU said the rental income made it possible for his wife to stay at home with their young children.

Following public comment, the discussion went back to Councilman Brekhus.  She made the following points.

  • Reno used to be a working class city, but high housing costs threaten that characteristic to the point that it really is a crisis.
  • Home occupancy has fallen so that there are fewer people living in these older neighborhoods than when they were first built.  It used to average 3.33 persons per home.  The average is now 2.5 persons per home.  So, the addition of ADU’s should not bring a big burden on infrastructure.
  • There are presently duplexes and converted garages in Newlands that have not had a negative impact.
  • It is an expansion of property owner’s rights to be able to build an ADU.
  • Including ADU’s in zoning is a national best practice in terms of urban planning.
  • The size of ADU’s should probably be limited to 500 or 600 sqft.
  • The city might waive the fees for the first ones to get some experience with a limited number of ADU additions and understand the issues.


Comments from the Council;

“I’m concerned about neighborhood character, but I also favor choice.” (Councilman Duerr)

“Perhaps, we could move forward while ‘carving out’ neighborhoods that are opposed.” (Jardon)

“Homeowners should have their property rights and property values protected.  They bought their homes with certain expectations.” (Councilman Weber)

Councilman Brekhus made a motion asking staff to continue to work on the proposal investigating the following issues.

  • How many ADU’s do we think would be built if they were approved?
  • Should we have ‘carve outs’ (exemptions) for certain neighborhoods?
  • How do we handle incompatible CC&R’s?
  • Should we handle the ADU’s with special use permits?

Mayor Schieve proposed affirming the decision of the Planning Commission to oppose the change permitting ADU’s.  This was passed unanimously.

One thought on “Accessory Dwelling Units Denied (Reno)

  1. Glad they denied, but kills me that City Councilpersons are now making arguments that we (Fawn/Callahan, North Valleys, etc. groups) made in the past in opposition of slamming homes in our neighborhoods. For example, concern about housing densities. So, it’s okay to change housing densities around our current neighborhoods, bringing tons of new traffic, crime, noise, etc. but now they are concerned about how these ADUs might affect other neighborhoods? Doesn’t seem that they had this much (or any) concern for our neighborhoods. County officials continue talking out both sides of their mouths…sickening.

    Lee Conley, M.Ed.

    EVMS Principal




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