By Oliver Lazenby
Opinions were split at a June 23 public hearing on a zoning change that would allow cottages, mother-in-law apartments, and other so-called accessory dwelling units – any kind of attached or detached structure with all essential living quarters, including a kitchen and bathroom, that’s separate from the primary residence – in new areas of Blaine.
Some welcomed the possibility to build a secondary dwelling on their property for aging relatives, adult children or to rent out for extra money. An equal number of people, however, worried about an increase in density and traffic, and the effect the amendment would have on property values.
After the hearing, the planning commission approved accessory dwelling units as a conditional use, which means each building permit will have to go through review by the planning committee and require a hearing.
The amendment would allow secondary dwellings in neighborhoods zoned as residential low-density. That includes the area north of H Street between State Route 543 and 8th Street, parts of the neighborhood east of Peace Portal Drive and Bell Road in the Montfort Park neighborhood, and an area north of Lincoln Park.
The matter needs approval by city council, which will likely consider it in the next couple of months, said city community planner Maddie Ottley.
Council originally approved these secondary dwellings in some neighborhoods in 2011 in order to promote density in developed areas, encourage diverse housing options in the city and accommodate population growth.
They’re currently allowed in neighborhoods zoned single family 1, single family 2 and planned residential. About five have been built since 2011, said Blaine community development director Michael Jones.
If council approves the zoning amendment, city staff does not expect cottages to start proliferating.
“Staff is not expecting to see an exponential increase because of the regulations and because of the time and cost involved with building these,” Ottley said at the meeting.
At the public hearing, those in favor of an amendment mostly said they hope to allow family members to live with them
Blaine resident Michael Wylie said in a letter to the planning commission that he wants to build a secondary dwelling to allow his children the opportunity to stay with him as long as they like.
“If they (and their families) can be comfortable in an accessory dwelling unit in part of our home, we can all enjoy each other more and help each other,” he wrote. “My wife and I can help with childcare if or when needed and my children can help us out as we get older if needed.”
Some who were against the amendment didn’t oppose the idea of family members living in ADUs, just the ability for homeowners to rent out their secondary dwelling.
Another commenter, Blaine resident Richard Thatcher, said the proposal is unnecessary for the city’s stated goal of encouraging diverse and affordable housing. The city already has a wide variety of housing, he said, including several houses for sale for little more than $200,000, according to real estate website Redfin.
“People pick places to buy a house based on established regulations, thinking they’re going to stay the same,” Thatcher said at the hearing. “This is not a real estate market that needs a change.”
Several commenters were concerned that secondary dwellings could be used as vacation rentals. Jones addressed that concern: “It is city law that homes can only be rented for 30 days or more,” he said. “So for people to rent those out for the weekend, that is not a real option.”
Accessory dwelling units must conform to numerous city codes. The same setback requirements that govern houses would also apply to them. Lots that are less than 6,000 square feet could not have accessory dwelling units. City staff also drafted rules for how big they could be as a percentage of lot size and size of the primary residence.
Other regulations include: secondary dwellings could not be converted to a condo or sold separately; the property owner has to live on the property – either in the main dwelling or in the ADU – and they should have parking in the alley when feasible.