Meeting tonight: The new Raleigh zoning code and the problem of accessory dwelling units

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Accessory dwelling units. They sound so benign, and in many cases they are — you put up a little cottage out back for grandma, or a college student, or as a place for your guests to stay if they're staying and, uh, staying.

But now picture this. Your neighbor builds an ADU, a honkin' two-story pad behind his house; but wait, it gets better (worse): your neighbor doesn't actually live in the house. No, he rents it out to four college students, and in the new "accessory dwelling unit," four more college students are suddenly resident, and they're living just a few feet from your house. Where you DO live.

Maybe they'll all be bookworms.

From the proposed Raleigh zoning ordinance
  • From the proposed Raleigh zoning ordinance
So you see the issue. Accessory dwelling units can be a good thing or not, and a big indicator of whether an ADU will be good or bad is whether the house it's "accessory" to is owner-occupied or isn't. In Raleigh, with its generous supply of houses rented to students, with the owners cashing the rent checks at an Apex or Cary address, an ordinance that allows even more students to be packed into a neighborhood where other families do live is, to put it mildly, problematic.

Yet this is what the new Raleigh zoning code, the so-called UDO (Unified Development Ordinance), seems to propose. Or so says Linda Watson, chair of the Glenwood Citizens Advisory Council, who's studied the issue for a year without assuaging her fears. She'd like to think the code would distinguish between places where an ADU is desirable and places where it isn't. Instead, she's pretty sure it will allow a rather large party pad to be built right up against the back lot line of a house even if the ADU looms over the backyard/house on the lot behind it. (And notice, in the graphic at right — which is taken from the proposed code — that the cottages are built on an alley. But unless I'm missing something, the alley isn't required. A two-story cottage can be erected within 10 feet of the back lot line, not counting roof overhangs and balconies, even if puts your backyard in the shade.

One other (huge) factor to consider. According to former Planning Commission member Betsy Kane, a lawyer-planner by trade, a North Carolina appeals court has ruled that cities cannot distinguish between owner-occupied homes and absentee-landlord houses when deciding whether ADU's should be legal or not. In other words, if ADU's are permitted at all, they must be available to slumlords and owner-occupants alike.

So Watson has called a special meeting of the Glenwood CAC this evening to air the issue. It's set for 6:30-9 p.m. at the Glen Eden Park Community Center, 1500 Glen Eden Drive.

You can read more about it in the Glenwood CAC newsletter:

GlenwoodCAC.pdf

***

By the way, where the heck is the Unified Development Ordinance? (Updated here and above to add the link — per John Burns' comment on FB that the answer to my question is, the UDO is online and has been for a long time. I didn't mean to suggest otherwise.)

The answer is, the consultants are finished writing it, the Planning Commission is finished reviewing it, and a mere three years after Raleigh adopted its new 2030 Comprehensive Plan, the zoning code that is supposed to put the plan in action is ready for consideration by the City Council.

Starting in September.

The code, as you may supposed, is replete with question marks. The ones surrounding accessory dwelling units have generated the first public skirmish, but no doubt not the last.

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