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Fast-Track Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Program

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Fast-Track ADU Program How to Apply for the Fast-Track ADU Program

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are small self-contained homes located on the same lot as a principal residence. While ADUs are common in Raleigh’s older neighborhoods, they do not exist in much of the city as a result of 20th-century laws and homeowners’ association rules prohibiting their construction. In 2020, as a response to increasing demand and an extreme housing shortage the City of Raleigh took a big step forward by allowing ADUs to be built citywide.

However, simply allowing ADUs has not been effective in inducing anticipated demand in Raleigh’s peer cities. It is only through the application of programs, policies, and constant regulatory evolution that cities have seen ADUs built-in meaningful numbers and in ways that help increase housing supply. You can view a report on best practices in ADU policies and programs.

One initiative the City of Raleigh is excited to announce is our new Fast-Track ADU Program, which will make it easier, faster, and more predictable to build an ADU. The details:

  1. The City invites designers and builders to submit detached ADU conceptual designs that meet the criteria described in this guide.
  2. A jury of private citizens will review submissions and select a minimum of 10 schematic designs (30% design level) for further design development.
  3. Selected designers will complete construction documents, which will be reviewed by the City of Raleigh staff for compliance with the Building Code.
  4. The selected designs will be displayed on the City’s ADU hub page, much like an online catalog with plans, renderings, and designer information.

Homeowners and others interested in building an ADU will be able to browse the online gallery, select a design, and connect with its designer to purchase the plan and proceed with the site permitting process.

If you would like to learn more about ADUs, see our "What is an ADU?" webpage.

ADU Fast-Track Q+A Session for Designers

Fast-Track ADU Program

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) can now be built throughout Raleigh as an outcome of a recent text change. To make it easier for residents to understand ADUs, how to build them, and what impacts they might have on their neighborhoods, the City of Raleigh is compiling an ADU Guide and Website.  This guide will include details on ADU zoning criteria, necessary building code references, and other programs and policies relevant to ADUs.

The Fast-Track ADU Program is one of the first and most important of these programs.


ADU programs are increasingly common tools implemented by municipalities for communities experiencing severe housing shortages and high construction costs.

The program’s goals address a broad range of topics:

  • By reducing upfront costs and ensuring a quick and efficient permitting process, this program will reduce barriers to ADUs in Raleigh.
  • The program encourages the development of ADUs by local designers and contractors. Raleigh has a strong design community with a distinguished history. This program seeks to celebrate this community asset and support its growth.
  • By offering the public a one-stop-shop prechecked ADU website, the City seeks to help homeowners understand their needs better and select an ADU that is right for them.
  • Ultimately, the primary goal of the program is to increase the supply of ADUs. As we’ve seen, these small homes fill an important niche in the housing supply in ways that only they can.

These fast-track designs will be developed by local architects and design professionals and will be vetted by City of Raleigh building code reviewers for compliance. This program will be continually updated in the future as a supported City of Raleigh program.

The Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) text change was adopted by the Raleigh City Council on July 7, 2020. It is effective on July 22, 2020. As a result of this text change, ADUs are allowed in the following zoning districts: R-1, R-2, R-4, R-6, R-10, RX, OX, NX, DX, and CX.

  • The City of Raleigh ADU Fast-Track process will include residential building review that will pre-review plans for building code compliance. This review is not considered a permit approval. A final site-specific review is required for building permits at time of permit application for a purchased Fast-Track ADU plan submitted for construction. Site specific reviews include, Building, Zoning, Historical Preservation, Stormwater, Transportation, Urban Forestry, Utilities, and Addressing.

How to Apply for the Fast-Track ADU Program

1. Eligibility

The City of Raleigh will accept submissions from architects, designers, and contractors/ builders. The City of Raleigh encourages the participation of design-build partnerships.

2. Plan Submittal Requirements

Please submit electronic PDF submissions through the designated email by March 15, 2022.

  • Name of firms or individuals submitting a design. Design-Build Partnerships are encouraged as well as partnerships between architects and landscape architects.
  • Resume of group members and relevant work samples.
  • Project Name with ADU Category of Submission (from Section 3)
  • Narrative describing how the plan fulfills design criteria. (from Section 4)

Itemized Cost Estimate or in case of built projects, Construction Costs and Construction Completion Date (cost can be a range to accommodate site conditions, material choice, or unknown factors) 

  • Drawing Set Minimum
    • Floor Plans (¼” scale) with dimensioned room sizes
    • Elevations (4) (¼ “scale) with material callouts.
    • Building Sections (¼” scale) showing wall and roof assembly
  • Optional drawings like details, sections, renderings, product information, virtual tour, etc.
  • Materials list for project.
  • Plan alternates (3 maximum) - You may include design options within the context of the standard plan. The scope and number of these options must be reasonable and could include plan reversals, alternate rooflines, bay window options, and variations in foundation wall heights or other similar alternatives without significant structural changes. All alternate plans should comply with the regulations of the City of Raleigh Unified Development Ordinance Section 2.6.3. D.
  • Plans submitted of constructed ADUs can provide photos of constructed ADUs.
  • Architecture drawing sets should be detailed to 30% submittal level of detail for first submittal.
  • Multiple submissions are allowed. Separate PDF files should be submitted for each submission 
  • Designers Proposed fee for plan
  • ADU Fast-Track Application and Disclaimer

3. ADU Plan Categories

ADU submissions will be categorized, please indicate category on submittal packages. Applicants can indicate multiple categories in submission.

  • Small Footprint (Studio, 1 Bedroom)

ADU that has a footprint of 500 sq. ft. or less.

  • Standard ADU (1 Bedroom)

ADU that has a footprint between 500 sq. ft. and 700 sq. ft.

  • Family Size (2 Bedroom, 3 Bedroom)

ADUs that can accommodate 2-3 bedrooms for family or multi-generational family. Typical ADUs will be limited to 800 sf (UDO 2.6.3.G.) This category will have ADUs from 600-800 sq. ft.

  • Large Footprint (800-1000 sq. ft.)

Larger sites of 40,000 sq. ft. or larger are permitted to have larger ADUs up to 1,000 sq. ft.

  • Green Design Building

ADUs with environmental considerations (e.g., Net Zero Designs, Sustainable Sites, Green Building Design, LEED Certified, Passivhaus) Additionally, any innovative strategies such as recycled materials or, stormwater collection devices will be rewarded.

  • Low-Cost Alternative

Construction costs are lower than typical construction using innovative construction materials or methods, this can include modular or HUD manufactured designs.

First-Tier Review

Submittals for the first-tier review will go through a review by City staff to make sure the minimum requirements for the program application are met (Section 1 & 2). Plans that meet the application requirements will be passed on to a jury comprised of selected representatives from the community of designers, local (Construction/Developers) business organizations and housing advocacy groups. The jury will review submissions and rank on design criteria (Section 4). The top-ranked submissions (minimum of 10) will be advanced to the Second Tier Review.

4. Design Criteria

The first-tier review will be conducted by a selected jury will use criteria listed below to rank submissions.

  1. Affordability
    Jury will review submitted designs with estimated cost to see if they align to affordability goals set forth. A pre-checked plan program is a toolset forth to make sure a majority of citizens from lower to moderate incomes in Raleigh are able to build. ADUs with lower building costs estimates (or actual costs) will be ranked higher and jurors will consider building methods, materials, and innovative designs that would lower costs. Proposed pre-check plan fees in (Section 2) will be considered in ranking.
  2. Context
    Designs that take context of site placement into consideration (accessory to main building), building orientation, privacy, local climate, region, district, development patterns, architectural contexts, etc. will be ranked higher than submittals without context considerations.
  3. Constructability
    Quick and simple designs that can keep cost down and minimize construction impacts. This would include minimizing specialized equipment, processes, or inspections and using readily available materials and construction methods/applications that are easy enough that homeowners could do it themselves.
  4. Architectural Elements
    Designs will be ranked based on a broader compatibility with architectural styles to ensure use within larger communities or appealing to a larger group of homeowners.
  5. Sustainable Elements
    Designs will be ranked based on level of sustainable/green elements. Innovation in programming, site use, or building design will be considered.
  6. Local and MWBE Designers
    Points will be given to local and MWBE design teams for consideration. The City of Raleigh encourages and provides equal opportunity for certified Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) businesses to participate in all aspects of the City’s contracting and procurement programs.

After the jury review, a minimum of 10 submissions will be selected based on overall ranking to be advanced to second-tier review (see details below). This review is conducted with Building Code Plan Reviewers and will be evaluated based on code adherence.

Second-Tier Review

City Staff will alert the applicants that have been approved to advance to the second-tier development review. At that time, applicants will be asked to submit electronic PDF submissions. Categories (section 3) and Design Criteria (section 4) should not be changed significantly between approval after first-tier review and before submittal to second-tier review.

  • Plans drawn to Architectural scale. Example: ¼” = 1’-0”. (Electrical, plumbing, and mechanical plans are not required.) Use a minimum font size of 10.
  • Include the Designer’s name and address.
  • Complete footing and foundation plan including wall footing, foundation dimensions, pier footing and masonry pier dimensions, and concrete slab thickness.
  • Complete framing plans with wall sections including size, grade and species of girders, floor joists, ceiling joists and rafters. Truss layout & truss data, TJI, etc. layout must be provided from manufacturer. Header schedule must be shown (grade and species identified) or referenced under structural section by designer, unless engineered. Supporting studs for load-bearing beams must be shown.
  • Load-bearing points identified on plans including solid blocking notation.
  • Knee wall shown and notation made, whether wall is load-bearing or not.
  • Engineering calculations required on members not shown in tables.
  • Complete dimensioned floor plans and elevations for all building facades and levels, including square footages and rooms identified. Identify walk-up attics, if applicable.
  • If plans indicate the use of pre-manufactured components, this same professional must include a written and signed statement directly on the supplemental engineering truss layouts to the effect that the truss loading has been taken into consideration in the structural design of the dwelling. When multiple options are shown on a plan, the options being built must be designated. For example: Plan includes slab and crawl options, bonus room, sunroom, etc.
  • You may include design options within the context of the standard plan. The scope and number of these options must be reasonable and could include plan reversals, alternate rooflines, bay window options, materials, and variations in foundation wall heights or other similar alternatives without significant structural changes. You must include any required structural changes, including the lateral load resisting system, in each option.

Second-tier reviews will use the Permit and Development Portal. Review timelines will vary based on the response time of designers. This review cycle will be similar to residential permit review and may require revisions and additional submittals prior to approval.

Submissions not selected for second-tier review may also be listed as promotional materials or in resource guides.  

Future program submissions will go through cycles and will be dependent on the adoption and changes in building code. Program will be updated accordingly on this cycle. Second-tier reviewed plans will be kept on file for reference for client submission.

5.  Building & Zoning Requirements

All designs must meet NC Residential Building Code and Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) standards.

Other resources can be found on the code and development resources or the City of Raleigh ADU Building Code webpages.

Just a reminder – there is a pending text amendment that, if approved, would allow manufactured homes built to HUD standards to be used as ADUs.



Contact the Team!


Lead Department:
Planning and Development