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Natural Awakenings Northwest Florida

Back to the Future: Traditional Backyard Homes Could Be Key To A Vibrant Urban Pensacola

Rising home prices in downtown Pensacola are great for investors, but the result can be gentrification, decreased diversity and suburban sprawl. One solution is backyard homes known as accessory dwelling units (ADUs).

Building a small, separate dwelling adjacent to an existing home isn’t a new concept. In times past, ADUs might have been called carriage houses, garage apartments or granny flats. Many cities, including Pensacola, are considering a return to this modest type of housing in order to create more economically vibrant urban neighborhoods, generate rental income for homeowners and provide another age-in-place option for seniors. 

The idea has garnered lots of interest … and questions. Christian Wagley of Pensacola consulting company Sustainable Town Concepts gave us answers.

What are the benefits to achieving greater urban density in Pensacola?

We accommodate more people on the same amount of land, which helps stop suburban sprawl—a tremendous cause of loss of open space and wildlife habitat in Florida. ADUs are very efficient for local governments, as they are built in existing neighborhoods where infrastructure like roads, sewers and utilities are already in place. Increasing density in neighborhoods brings more residents closer to where they work and shop, reducing the need to drive and minimizing pollution and traffic congestion. It also brings more customers closer to neighborhood businesses, which need more local customers in order to be viable. 

Are there communities in the United States where ADUs have really taken off? 

Yes, in West Coast cities like Portland they are very popular. This is the case in places with very tight housing markets. 

What permit is required to build an ADU?

A building permit—just like what’s required to build a regular home. 

How much yard space do you need?

ADUs typically range from 400 to 1,000 square feet. In the City of Pensacola, they are limited to no larger than 60 percent of the size of the main structure on the property. So if the main structure is 1,000 square feet, the ADU can’t be larger than 600 square feet. There are setbacks required around ADUs, from the side and rear property lines. They vary locally but are usually around five feet. 

How long does it take to build an ADU? 

Six months or so, if everything goes well. Prefab ADUs, which come in pieces that can quickly be assembled, take less time. 

Are there builders who specialize in ADUs? Where can you buy the plans?

I’m not aware of any builders in our region who specialize in them, although there are some in larger cities. Most people purchase plans for from a local architect or designer, or plans can be purchased online. Those plans will usually need to have a local engineer provide structural drawings to accompany them in order to meet local requirements for hurricanes. There are thousands of ADU plans out there and many styles, from traditional to ultra-modern. They usually can be customized by the architect. 

Do they require permanent utility lines? 

Utilities are required just as with a primary dwelling. There may be options for whether utilities are constructed individually to an ADU or are run from the main structure. Check with your local utility. 

How are ADUs different from “tiny homes”?

ADUs are permanent, while many tiny homes are designed to be moved. ADUs are also typically much larger. 

How many people can live comfortably in an ADU?

Considering a range of ADUs from 400 to 1,000 square feet, a comfortable range of occupants would be from one to four. 

What sort of cost is involved?

At a workshop we held in February, local residents who have had ADUs built in their backyards in recent years reported costs ranging from $60,000 to well over $100,000.

How would ADUs affect property taxes?

Property values and thus taxes will increase. If you rent the ADU, you will lose your homestead exemption on that portion of your property. 

Would an ADU be financed through a separate mortgage or through a home equity loan?

Both of those are options. 

Could they be used as VRBOs or Airbnbs?

Yes, this is very common. 

In this area, what sort of additional income could someone earn by renting out an ADU?

If you look at various local ADUs on Airbnb, that will give you some idea. We’ve heard of monthly rentals ranging from $500 to $750 or so; higher rates would be available through short-term rentals. 

Are there any neighborhoods where ADUs are prohibited by ordinance?

Some cities and counties are very restrictive with or even prohibit ADUs. In Pensacola we are fortunate that the city is very permissive with ADUs, as they are allowed in all zoning districts.

For more information about ADUs, contact Christian Wagley with Sustainable Town Concepts at 850-687-9968 or [email protected] [email protected]

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