Last month, I introduced the concept of accessory commer–cial units (ACUs) that redress the historical wrongs that created economic exclusion by enacting racial segregation.
ACUs create new destinations within our neighborhoods and enhance walkability.
What forms might accessory dwelling units (ADUs) take as infill within an existing neighborhood such as ours? A traditional building form sometimes found within the front setback in our neighborhood is a carriage house, with a residence above a garage on the ground floor.
A twist on an ACU could see one placed on the ground floor facing the sidewalk, with an ADU on the second floor. This arrangement could also work in an alley.
This sort of gentle infill could help to build neighborhood intensity without significantly changing neighborhood character. It could build the local demand for services, such as retail and transit, that do better when there are more customers within a short walking distance.
When considering where ACUs might be appropriate, there are at least four different potential regulatory paradigm concepts worth considering:
- Along all frontages facing bicycle boulevards/greenways
- Only at new village center nodes, such as selected intersections along family-safe bicycle facilities
- At intersections
- Everywhere, on any properties, for any reasons, as long as they face a sidewalk or internal courtyard accessible by pathways from the sidewalk that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Concept 1 would deliver on the original vision, to give bicyclists the option to choose local retail by bicycle, since it appears that our main streets aren’t going to be made family-bicycle-friendly, anytime soon.
However, by allowing ACUs on greenways everywhere, there would be potentially greater conflicts with neighbors interested in a strictly residential character for the street they bought into.
Concept 2 concentrates ACUs within smaller, more defined areas, minimizing the potential of conflict with neighbors. From an equity perspective, however, it would be the least equitable, as the least number of property owners would have the opportunity to provide and benefit from revenues of ACUs.
Concept 3 spreads the opportunity for revenue, lowers the barrier to opening a new business and increases access to the lowest rungs on the economic ladder to those who need it most. Those include populations victimized historically by racism, sexism and other forms of oppression. By allowing ACUs on any properties – or perhaps any served by ADA-compliant sidewalk networks – ACUs could come to areas where residents may have moved to find life in peaceful, quiet neighborhoods.
Neighbor concerns could be addressed through regulations that use ambient standards to deal with noise, odors, traffic and other potentially-noxious impacts – or by addressing the impacts rather than by establishing use regulations.
It’s up to each community to engage in dialogue over these three paradigms and choose the one that resonates most with community members participating in the public process.
Editor’s note: Garlynn’s first install–ment about ACUs was published in July at ConcordiaPDX.org/2021/07/urbanism-acus-could-make-shopping-by-bike-more-safe. In a future CNews, he’ll dive deeper into questions of commercial space affordability and a discussion of the potential benefits to neighbors from ACUs.
Garlynn Woodsong lives on 29th Avenue, serves on the CNA board and is an avid bicyclist. He also is a dad who is passionate about the city his son will inherit. He is the planning + development partner with Cascadia Partners LLC, a local urban planning firm. Contact him at LandUse@ConcordiaPDX.org.