Example of an ACU in New Orleans

What are Accessory Commercial Units or ACUs?

Learn how a text change TC-12-21 could expand opportunities for commercial businesses within neighborhoods.

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Elements of an ACU What does TC-12-21 do? What are the benefits of ACUs? Commonly Asked Questions

An Accessory Commercial Unit, or ACU, is a business located on the same property as a residence. Unlike a standalone operation, the business must be clearly secondary and subordinate to the residential structure and use on the site. ACUs were relatively common before modern zoning laws physically separated most residential and commercial development and exist today in places such as Portland, Memphis, and New Orleans. In recent years, ACUs have gained in popularity as a means to introduce retail and other opportunities into historically isolated and disinvested communities.

City of Raleigh staff held two hybrid Ask-A-Planner sessions to discuss the proposed text change, TC-12-21 Accessory Commercial Units. This text change would allow small businesses to be located on the same property as a residence. The two sessions were held in person and online simultaneously. You can view the presentation from the sessions and links to videos of each meeting are listed below:

Elements of an ACU

While aesthetically ACUs can vary widely, they often adhere to a few key zoning principles:

  • Are built or established in association with a residential structure; can be either internal, attached, or detached 
  • Are smaller in size than the accompanying residential structure.  
  • Have limited operations as compared to a standalone business 
  • Are used for retail, personal service, eating establishment,s or some other type of business that is of general benefit to the surrounding community. Industrial or heavy manufacturing uses are typically excluded.  

Scroll through the slideshow to view ACU examples.

What does TC-12-21 do?

Text changes (TC) are amendments to Raleigh’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). The UDO contains all the development and zoning rules for the city. TC-12-21 would revise the Accessory Use section of the UDO to permit Accessory Commercial Units within all residential districts. Specifically, the text change would:

  • Eliminate the Home Occupation accessory use option and instead permit Live Work accessory uses in all Residential districts by-right with certain standards including limitations on the number of employees and customers allowed on-site.
  • Create a new Accessory Use titled Accessory Commercial Unit which while more permissive than a Live-Work accessory use, would have strict design and operational requirements.

What are the benefits of ACUs?

Many of Raleigh’s neighborhoods were constructed to intentionally separate commercial and residential uses, resulting in a lack of vital businesses such as retail, personal service, and eating establishments throughout large swaths of the city. While ACUs are not a perfect solution they could serve to ensure more people have access to more goods and services.  

In addition to meeting an untapped need, ACUs may contribute to more dense and walkable communities. Today, many residents must drive to get groceries or pick up a prescription. Where sidewalks do exist, the experience is often unpleasant and may come with a significant time cost. Despite the continued investment, transit access is also lacking outside major thoroughfares. By locating limited commercial uses in residential neighborhoods, ACUs could incentivize people to walk instead of drive to complete their errands, creating more sustainable and vibrant neighborhoods. 

Commonly Asked Questions

Below are answers to some commonly asked questions about middle housing.   

Where can an ACU be located? 

As proposed, an ACU could be located in any residential zoning district.  

What will ACUs look like? 

An ACU could be internal to the principal dwelling, with no outward difference in appearance. If attached to the principal dwelling, an ACU must be located in a fully-conditioned space. The exterior facade must also be compatible with the residential structure in terms of texture, quality, material, and color.

How big can an ACU be? 

An ACU could not exceed 1,000 square feet or 40% of the floor area of the residential structure, whichever is less. 

What kinds of uses can be in an ACU?

Allowed uses would be limited to the following:

  1. Office
  2. Indoor Recreation (with the exception of Adult Establishment, Shooting range)
  3. Personal Service (with the exception of Animal Care, Dry-cleaning, and Massage Parlor)
  4. Retail Sales
  5. Eating Establishment
  6. Clothing, textile, and apparel manufacturing
  7. Production of artwork and toys
  8. Graphic design
  9. Assembly, design, repair, or testing of clocks, computers, jewelry, musical instruments, and photographic or optical instruments. 

What protections are in place to ensure neighbors are not negatively impacted? 

TC-12-21 proposes multiple regulations to effectively mitigate the potential impacts of ACUs:

  • No more than one ACU would be permitted per lot.
  • Hours of operation would be limited from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
  • Drive-thrus, outdoor storage, and outdoor seating would be prohibited.
  • Outdoor display areas are limited to 50 square feet or less.
  • Loading, service, and utility areas must be screened from adjacent residential properties.
  • Only one vehicle used in connection with the ACU is permitted on-site.
  • With the exception of temporary A-frame signs, all signage must be attached to the dwelling.
  • The ACU must meet all applicable building code requirements.  

I am interested in constructing an ACU. Where can I find more information? 

The staff has begun evaluating its internal processes to identify how ACUs can be applied for, reviewed, and permitted. If the text change is adopted, please check the City website for more information.  

Does this text change impact rules imposed by my HOA? What about restrictive covenants? 

Rules imposed by an HOA or Deed Restrictions could continue to be enforced. TC-12-21 would not pre-empt or supersede this authority.

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