By Brad Smith
For many reasons, as a kid growing up just north of the city, I could not imagine myself living in Fredericksburg as an adult. As an adult, there are few places I could imagine living that bring the same mix of community engagement, diversity, recreation, and potential. I say potential because, while there is already so much to be admired and emulated in our community, I believe our greatest days lie ahead.
I was fortunate enough to move downtown, rent, and then purchase a fixer upper at a time when both the real estate and rental markets were much less daunting. I chose my house for a variety of reasons–the prospect of being able to walk to Soup & Taco or to a Great Lives lecture not the least among them; but towards the top of the list was the little cottage behind the main home. I was fortunate enough to speak with the previous home owner who shared a story about how she initially built the ADU on her property so that her granddaughter–then a student at the University of Mary Washington–could be close to family but still have a measure of privacy and independence.
As a military brat, it reminded me of the many vibrant communities around the world my family encountered where it was commonplace for families to build on a shared “compound” or even build vertically–one flat on top of another–in shared family “apartment buildings.” From security, to affordability, to built in child–and elder–care–seeing the positive effects engendered by these sorts of micro-communities shaped much of what I view as the realm of possibility of what a community can look like.
As I planted roots in Fredericksburg–and as my primary mode of transportation shifted from a car to a bike–I began to fall more in love with the city and notice things I hadn’t when I was simply a customer, patron, tourist. I was surprised and pleased to notice many more of these sorts of ADUs from those built at the beginning of the “tiny house renaissance” to those that have existed nearly as long as the city itself. I saw gardens and businesses seemingly hidden around corners that I had not noticed before. I came into contact with the many incredible organizations and individuals that make this city a better place to live.
Fredericksburg’s proximity to military bases, hospitals, and higher education institutions brings us into contact with many citizens in similar situations as I was. Practically, the city can especially benefit–and benefit from–these more transient and temporary residents utilizing ADUs. I have many friends and neighbors that have benefited from the affordability and flexibility that ADU rental options afford whether it be for a few years of medical residency at Mary Washington Hospital, transitioning from on campus housing at the University of Mary Washington, or a few months of school at Quantico Marine Corps Base.
I also encountered a troubling phenomenon: the reality that, even when the market was much more friendly, so many of those that work in the cafes, restaurants, galleries, and niche shops we love can not afford to live in the city. So many of our public servants, first responders, educators, non-profit employees, artists, and so many of the individuals that make Fredericksburg what it is can not afford to rent or buy. There is no good reason that those who keep us safe, provide our food, repair our cars, tend our gardens, minister to our most vulnerable and lonely, and otherwise bring beauty and security to our corner of the Commonwealth must be tourists in the city they work in and enrich. I think it is our responsibility to at least sit with the question of whether our city can sustain those who sustain it.
The causes and solutions to this are many, and many lie outside of our control. We cannot, for example, petition the Federal Reserve to set more favorable interest rates. We cannot create more land within the city limits. But we can create more ways for people to become a part of the Fredericksburg that we all love. ADUs are a great way to do that.
Brad Smith is Board Chair of Downtown Greens and resident of Ward 3.