Urban Affairs

State zoning for duplexes, accessory dwelling units proposed

The Urban Affairs Committee heard testimony Jan. 30 on two measures intended to increase housing density in Nebraska cities.

Sen. John Lowe
Sen. John Lowe

Kearney Sen. John Lowe, sponsor of LB1165 and LB1166, said the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority estimates that the state needs 200,000 more housing units to meet demand. He said both proposals would help address the problem by ensuring that local zoning regulations do not limit the types of houses that can be built.

Under LB1165, duplex housing would be allowed as a permitted use on a lot where a single-family residence is a permitted use in metropolitan, primary and first class cities. Zoning regulations that apply to duplexes could not be more restrictive than regulations that apply to single-family residences.

LB1166 would require municipalities to adopt zoning regulations that allow at least one accessory dwelling unit on a lot or parcel that contains a single-family residence. The bill defines an ADU as a self-contained living unit that includes its own cooking, sleeping and sanitation facilities.

Under the proposal, an ADU would be allowed by right, meaning that it could be approved without a public hearing or conditional use permit.

LB1166 also would prohibit certain actions intended to discourage the development of ADUs. Among other restrictions, a municipality could not require that a lot or parcel have additional parking to accommodate an ADU, require that an ADU match the exterior design of its related single-family dwelling or assess impact fees on an ADU’s construction.

The bill would allow a municipality to require a one-time application fee of no more than $250 to create an ADU.

Fred Hoppe testified in support of both bills on behalf of Hoppe Development, Lincoln and Omaha homebuilders’ associations, the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry and others.

He said LB1165 would allow developers to build more housing in cities where current zoning regulations are not conducive to duplexes. Compared to a single-family residence, Hoppe said, duplexes provide twice the number of housing units for the same infrastructure cost.

“When you build affordable housing, density is important,” he said. “It’s how we get affordability.”

Todd Stubbendieck of AARP Nebraska also testified in support of both bills. By easing the construction of duplexes, he said, the state could meet the needs of older residents who want to downsize from large, single-family residences, freeing up those houses for younger buyers.

Stubbendieck said ADUs are another “age-friendly” housing option that allows older adults to live near family members or other caregivers. The Omaha planning board recently recommended zoning changes that would make it easier to build ADUs, he said, but they still require city council approval.

“I’m concerned that a piecemeal approach to housing zoning reform, specifically regarding ADUs, will simply take too long and leave too many communities behind,” Stubbendieck said.

Several opponents of the proposals said Nebraska cities with a population of more than 20,000 already are working to address the state’s housing shortage under the Municipal Density and Missing Middle Housing Act, passed by the Legislature in 2020.

Christy Abraham, who testified in opposition to both bills on behalf of the League of Nebraska Municipalities, said that, beginning this year, the act requires those cities to submit affordable housing action plans to the Legislature.

“Our cities know that housing is a problem,” Abraham said. “They are not trying to impede growth.”

Eric Englund testified in opposition to LB1165 and LB1166 on behalf of the city of Omaha, saying the city recognizes the need for additional housing and is working on potential zoning code changes related to duplexes and ADUs.

Allowing the construction of duplexes without public input would generate “loud opposition” in certain neighborhoods that have consisted of single-family houses for decades, he added.

Also in opposition to both bills was Wayne Mortensen of NeighborWorks Lincoln. He said a statewide zoning standard for duplexes would be unworkable because they are difficult to build on single-family lots without infringing on neighbors’ privacy.

“We spend months before we do projects like these — working with neighbors before the dirt starts flying — because forcing these projects onto unsuspecting neighborhoods can be profoundly disenfranchising,” Mortensen said.

Instead of a mandate, he said, the state could create sample design and zoning guidelines that cities could adopt, allow cities to exempt certain neighborhoods from the proposed requirements or incentivize them to adopt zoning changes by tying them to state funding.

The committee took no immediate action on either bill.

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