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Community Group Alleges City Council Hiding ADU Agenda

Claims Include Hidden Meetings and Missing Minutes

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With rental prices rising and wages holding steady, the City Council appears ready to introduce ADUs in an attempt to make Fredericksburg more affordable.

Accessory dwelling units are secondary houses or apartments that share the lot of a larger, primary residence that they cannot be bought or sold separately from. Examples include guest houses, detached garages, in-law suites and others.

The city’s proposed ADU ordinance takes cues from Alexandria, Arlington and other areas around Virginia, electing to allow one additional dwelling unit per property lot with separate requirements for internal and external units. It would allow for a maximum internal ADU floorspace of 40% of the principle dwelling area, with a maximum of 400 square feet for external ADUs. The ordinance requires that ADUs have a resident manager, but that individual does not need to own the property.

As proposed, ADUs would be prohibited from being used as short-term rentals (Air B&Bs). The city’s policy of limiting the occupancy of a residence to a family and two accompanying unrelated people still stands.

In early February, the City Council began seeking citizen input in the form of several community meetings and public hearings. It also published a Q&A sheet on its website that focused on the potential positive aspects of allowing ADUs in the city.

In theory, accessory dwelling units “help expand housing options and affordability in neighborhoods,” as stated on the city’s Planning Services Division’s website.

DC consultant and Fredericskburg City Council member Jason Graham, who represents Ward 1 which includes Central Park and the Idlewild neighborhood, has laid out his support for the ADU ordinance with the claim that it would increase the number of prospective buyers without creating a “bonanza” for real estate investors and that there’s “no risk” to renters acting disorderly “without consequence.”

But not everyone is buying in.

The Fredericksburg Neighborhood Coalition, a group which consists of neighborhood associations, homeowners associations and other community members isn’t on board. They call the Fredericksburg City Council’s proposed ordinance a “grave threat” to the character and charm of the city’s neighborhoods.

Their website features photos of high-density urban areas and cranes lowering impromptu apartments made from shipping containers into residential neighborhoods. The caption for one image reads “City Councilor Jason Graham’s ADU Vision!”

The group also alleges that as the proposed ADU ordinance began receiving more attention, the City Council began hiding further discussion of the ADU ordinance on agendas under ambiguous topics such as “Manger’s Report” or “Zoning Report.” They also claim Council Work Sessions are being conducted in the city’s smaller conference room (a room that lacks ADA requirements), and it’s been alleged that minutes from these meetings were posted months after the fact, or in the case of the Planning Commission, not published at all.

It’s unclear if the alleged conduct violates ADA requirements or Virginia law that requires minutes from meetings be published within seven days of their approval.

The Fredericksburg Neighborhood Coalition calls on residents opposed to the ADU ordinance to get involved, make public comments, contact members of the Planning Commission and City Council, even if the objection is as simple as “I am against ADUs.” It also suggests talking with neighbors, starting neighborhood groups and participating in efforts to “educate (the) City Council.”

According to Zillow, the city’s median rent eclipsed $2,000 a month in April, with the average home price sitting at just over $425k.

The next meeting regarding ADUs will be held Tuesday, May 10th at 715 Princess Anne Street.

Learn more about the City of Fredericksburg’s proposed ADU ordinance at bit.ly/3HHHvfC.

Learn more about the Fredericksburg Neighborhood Coalition at bit.ly/3HNQWtI.

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