Raleigh City Council Shoots Down Backyard Cottages—At Least for Now | News

Raleigh City Council Shoots Down Backyard Cottages—At Least for Now

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Outgoing Raleigh City Council member Mary-Ann Baldwin suggested Wednesday that the city move quickly to give all residents the right to build backyard cottages—the subject of a piece in this week’s INDY—hoping to gain approval for a cause to which she has given her passionate support.

But the council, rarely known to move hastily, beat back the request on a 5–3 vote, leaving the backyard cottage ordinance in a council committee, where it's sat since July.
Raleigh City Council member Mary-Ann Baldwin says all city residents should have the right to build backyard cottages. - THOMAS GOLDSMITH
  • Thomas Goldsmith
  • Raleigh City Council member Mary-Ann Baldwin says all city residents should have the right to build backyard cottages.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane and outgoing council member Bonner Gaylord agreed with Baldwin that the ordinance should be pulled from the growth and natural resources committee and discussed for a possible vote November 21. Council member Kay Crowder, who chairs that committee, assured Baldwin that her panel will meet on the backyard-cottage plan.

"We’ve been meeting for two years; you should also be ashamed of yourself," Baldwin said angrily to the council. "I’m not disappointed. I’m frustrated that this council cannot act."

At-large council member Russ Stephenson, mentioning his long advocacy for neighborhood-friendly practices, said the committee should be given a chance to work with the existing measure.

Raleigh planning staffers said that no other city they are aware of uses essentially a referendum process to allow ADUs, which Raleigh’s current proposal would do. The state of California passed a law this year requiring all municipalities to allow backyard cottages, which can serve as a dwelling for older residents, renters, or homeowners who'd like to rent out their former principal residences.

The requirement to hold neighborhood votes before allowing the structures is part of an ordinance that the council considered in July. During the ongoing discussion of affordable housing in Raleigh, the addition of backyard cottages has been cited repeatedly as a potential source of hundreds of lower-cost units annually. A Wake County report on affordable housing last month recommended using the small units to increase supply.

Baldwin and other proponents are calling for what's known as a "by right" approach, meaning residents can build the small units under a city's zoning code. That’s different than the version that is currently in Crowder’s committee.
Raleigh City Council member Kay Crowder chairs the panel's growth and natural Resources Committee. - THOMAS GOLDSMITH
  • Thomas Goldsmith
  • Raleigh City Council member Kay Crowder chairs the panel's growth and natural Resources Committee.

Crowder told the INDY last week that her panel would consider the ordinance, but not in the near term.

McFarlane, fresh from an electoral victory Tuesday, spoke out Wednesday in favor of Baldwin's motion. "We’ve been getting a lot of information on providing more affordable housing," McFarlane said. "I’m sorry the council doesn’t see that as a priority for us."

An alliance of nonprofits and businesses submitted a letter to council members Wednesday urging that they move ahead with the ADUs ordinance. Businesses involved ranged from C. Grace to Raleigh Provisions, and the associations included WakeUp Wake County and U.S. Bartenders’ Guild, Raleigh Chapter. 

"The City of Raleigh has been debating Accessory Dwelling Units (known as ADUs or backyard cottages) since 2013, including a 2014 pilot program conducted through the Mordecai CAC," coalition members wrote. "Meanwhile, municipalities across the state (such as Durham, Asheville, and Charlotte), and throughout the country have created or expanded ordinances allowing ADUs to help create a variety of housing choices."

The housing nonprofit DHIC also chimed in, with director Gregg Warren urging the early adoption of the ADU ordinance, with its neighborhood-vote provision removed.

"The unwieldy process for creating and approving these overlay districts could substantially threaten the value and results of an ADU, reducing the potential for new, needed housing supply, as well as the opportunities for homeowners to generate needed supplemental income," Warren wrote. "We suggest that council consider a more equitable, impactful and simplified by-right strategy instead."

Said Gaylord: "It really is important and it will have an impact on changing people’s lives."

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