A rental on every plot?

Restrictions on ADUs would be lifted under a proposal the city is considering

By: Payton Guion, staff writer//June 29, 2012//

A rental on every plot?

Restrictions on ADUs would be lifted under a proposal the city is considering

By: Payton Guion, staff writer//June 29, 2012//

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Granny won’t be the only person who can live in that rental in your backyard, if a proposal making its way through city government becomes law.

In what would be a major policy change, the city is considering allowing so-called accessory dwelling units to be rented to whomever the owner desires, overturning a law that places restrictions on who can live in such spaces.

If approved — it goes before the City Council July 16, and the city’s planning staff and zoning committee are supporting it — it would do away with a rule that allows ADUs to be used only as guesthouses, employee quarters or as housing for the elderly or people with disabilities.

Many in the real estate industry are excited about the proposed change, saying it has the potential to boost the city’s supply of affordable housing, which many agree the city needs more of.

But some fear the policy change could result in rentals popping up left and right, causing the city’s density to skyrocket. Some also say that the city might be moving too quickly when it should be more closely examining the repercussions of the change.

Under current law, an ADU can be part of someone’s house or a standalone structure. If it’s part of a house, though, certain restrictions apply. For one, there are size and height limits, and the ADU cannot be accessible from within the main home.

If the law is changed, anybody could rent their ADU to anybody.

Joe Padilla, executive public policy director of the Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition, called the proposed change “a solid move for the community,” adding that there isn’t enough affordable housing in the city, especially in south Charlotte.

“That (ADUs) is the kind of housing stock that we don’t have a lot of here,” Padilla said. “If you look at a lot of cities in the world, especially mature ones, you see that they have housing like this.”

In some parts of the city, like Myers Park, people, like teachers, might currently have difficulty finding affordable housing near their work, he said.

“The goal of this initiative is to say that people in these communities who don’t make the money to buy should still be able to live in them,” he said. “This would reduce traffic, among other things.”

Meanwhile, some in the multifamily industry don’t appear to be worried about the ADU policy change resulting in an influx of rentals.

“I don’t see the magnitude of this affecting the rental industry in the next 10 years,” Ken Szymanski, executive director of the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association. “There is nothing the indicate that this will be a big part of housing in the city.”

Tommy Lawing, president of T.R. Lawing Realty, a rental property-management company, also doesn’t sound concerned.

“I don’t think that they (ADUs) would affect our portfolio at all,” Lawing said. “I don’t think they compete with anyone’s portfolio. I don’t see them (ADUs) as a threat.

“From an affordable housing standpoint, it’s fine. We would support them as affordable housing.”

But the proposed change is worrisome to other real estate industry officials, such as Walter Fields, a Charlotte-based planning consultant.

“If you do simple math, you’re doubling the density on a single-family lot,” he said. “In theory, if every single-family lot builds an accessory unit, you’re doubling the density of the city.”

Fields also said he’s troubled that many people don’t seem to be aware of the proposed change.

“I’ve called people about this issue and they have no idea what I’m talking about,” he said. “Some wider circulation of this idea should still happen.”

Padilla said that no one spoke against the ADU proposal during a June 18 City Council zoning meeting and that he hasn’t heard of any pushback.

Still, others say the city should slow down and spend more time analyzing the proposal before rolling it out.

“I think this thing proceeded forward a little too quickly,” said Steven Firestone, a member of the county’s planning commission. “I’m not certain that we’ve thought through all the negative and externalities.”

Firestone also said residents have told him that they are worried about the change negatively impacting neighborhoods.

But Shad Spencer, planning coordinator for the county, said there will be restrictions on ADUs that will help to protect the character of neighborhoods. For example, materials used to build ADUs must match the materials on the principle dwelling. Also, new ADUs cannot exceed 800 square feet.

Also, even if the ADU rules are changed, it won’t mean such structures could be built in neighborhoods where covenants currently ban them, Padilla said. Also, neighborhoods with parking restrictions would still be required to adhere to them even if the ADU policy changes, Padilla said.

While the real estate industry is waiting to see what will happen with the ADU proposal, it’s not the only major policy change the city is considering.

The industry is also buzzing over a proposed alteration to the city’s duplex policy. Under that change, duplexes could be built in most single-family residential zones.

The zoning committee is set to discuss the duplex proposal in October.

Guion can be reached at [email protected].

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