The city could make it easier to build a master suite behind your house

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio City Council is mulling a host of code changes on Thursdays, including one that would make it easier to build another, smaller residence behind your home.

The city officially refers to these small buildings as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), although they are also known by other names: casitas, granny flats, or inlaw suites.

Equipped with their own kitchen and bathrooms, ADUs are prevalent in some neighborhoods such as King William and are often used as rental units or guest houses.

The city’s Strategic Housing Implementation Plan calls for the creation of more ADUs, which “can create wealth for low-income households and support aging-in-place for older residents.” City staff say a proposed change to make it easier to build new ADUs would align with that.

City Council is due to consider Thursday 193 amendments to the Unified Development Code, which covers processes related to design review, demolition review, as well as the creation of neighborhoods and landmarks. The update process usually takes place every five years, although the current process has been delayed since 2020 due to the pandemic.

An amendment would ease some of the restrictions for building new ADUs: doubling their maximum square footage, depending on the size of the primary residence; allowing more rooms and occupants; allowing them to be built closer to the property lines and allowing them to have separate utility connections rather than requiring them to be supplied from the main house.

ADUs over 800 square feet and detached from the main house should also have a parking space as part of the proposal. It would also limit the height of a detached ADU to 25 feet or two stories.

A current key requirement would be maintained – owner occupancy. The owner must live on the property in either the main house or the ADU, which means only one building can be rented.

However, the Tier One Neighborhood Coalition, which represents neighborhoods in and around the 410 Loop, is concerned that having separate utilities will make it even easier for real estate investors to purchase property with an ADU. and divide it into two separate rental units.

“And your single-family home will now become an investor duplex,” said Bianca Maldonado, a member of the group’s steering committee.

Although the practice is already expressly prohibited in city code, Maldonado says enforcement by the city is lacking.

Deputy Director of the Department of Developmental Services, Melissa Mota Ramirez, says the city has no complaints about the ADUs that are currently in violation.

Homeowners wishing to build a new ADU must sign an affidavit that they live on the property, which is filed with the county.

The city does not have staff looking for violations later, but Ramirez said he will review all reported cases.

“If they don’t live on the property, they’re in violation of the ADU amendment — or ADU regulations — they should rezone their property. That would be the next step in the development process that they would have to adhere to,” Ramirez said.

Maldonado says Tier One wants the proposed change to utilities and reduced setbacks, which she says pose a fire hazard, removed from the amendments before the board passes it.

City staff, however, said the reduced setback requirement — from five feet to three feet — also means additional fire protections for those using it.

The city council is due to vote Thursday at 9 a.m.

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