This story has been updated.
San Antonio’s Zoning Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved proposed changes to the city’s development code that could make it easier for homeowners to build smaller, secondary homes on their properties.
Commissioners voted on the proposed changes with two amendments.
One increased the maximum size of accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, up to 1,600 square feet, depending on the size of the principal home on the property. Previously, the proposed amendment capped ADUs to 800 square feet or 50% of the gross floor area of the primary structure, whichever is larger. The second amendment clarifies that ADUs are subject to short-term rental rules.
“One of the objectives of the City of San Antonio is affordable housing … and I think many of these changes are imperative to that,” said Commissioner Summer Greathouse (D1), who proposed the two amendments. “We’re in a housing crisis.”
The ADU amendments will now be considered publicly by the Planning Commission on Sept. 22, one of 198 proposed changes to the city’s unified development code that will eventually be decided by City Council in October.
San Antonio undergoes a unified development code amendment process every five years, but the 2020 effort was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. The process resumed last year and the most recent proposed changes touch on a wide range of issues, including ADUs, flood prevention, urban farms, light pollution and transitional housing.
Not all 198 proposals required zoning review; the remainder will be heard by the Board of Adjustment and the Historic and Design Review Commission. The Planning Commission will then hear all of them, and forward its recommendations to council.
Zoning reviewed 61 proposals Tuesday, saving one regarding water protection for West Side creeks for its July 19 meeting. Fifty-one were approved without discussion. One proposal regarding gas station proximity to residential areas was withdrawn, because a separate proposal covers the same issue. The commission rejected another proposal regarding transitional housing in residential areas.
Council will review all amendments, including those rejected by zoning and planning commissions, unless they are withdrawn by the applicant.
The proposed changes to the code regarding ADUs, developed by a subcommittee of the Housing Commission along with city staff, include eliminating the rule that an ADU’s utilities must be connected to the primary structure, removing occupancy and bedroom limitations and loosening design requirements while allowing for larger units. ADUs would be limited to backyards, and be capped at two stories. Only ADUs with floor areas larger than 800 square feet would be required to include parking.
Making ADUs easier for homeowners to build is a priority for the city because the secondary structures can provide passive income to property owners, allow for multigenerational housing and don’t require the additional infrastructure that building in a new lot requires.
“Given the lengthy process that has led to this amendment, given the discussions that we’ve had and given the housing crisis that this city is currently undergoing, I think this is a great first step to addressing those issues,” said Commission Chairman John Bustamante (D5).
The proposed changes will not alter the rule that the property owner must occupy either the primary or secondary residence, but a member of the Tier 1 Neighborhood Coalition, a group of inner-city neighborhood associations, said that rule isn’t enforced by the city.
“If we enforce that, that means people are going to be evicted,” Cynthia Spielman, a Tier 1 steering committee member and former chair of the subcommittee tasked with removing barriers to affordable housing development. “I’m not willing to evict people, but we’ve got to have something … [that doesn’t] make it even more attractive for them to do it in the future.”
Tier 1 led the charge opposing some of the proposed changes, fearing they could make it easier for investors to buy up housing and increase density in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes.
And there’s no guarantee that ADUs will be “affordable,” said Bianca Maldonado, a member of the Tier 1 steering committee and resident of the Monticello Park neighborhood.
Disclosure: Zoning Commissioner John Bustamante is the husband of San Antonio Report Story Editor Tracy Idell Hamilton.