Public Opinion: Erin Sterling Lewis

Erin Sterling Lewis is a principal of local architecture firm in situ studio, and a member of the City of Raleigh Planning Commission. She supports backyard cottages in Raleigh. With the Planning Commission, Erin extensively reviewed each chapter of the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), and focused specifically on Chapter 2 and backyard cottages. Her experience with backyard cottages goes beyond planning and regulations in the city, having lived in a backyard cottage herself.

I lived in a backyard cottage for three years in Cameron Park. At the time, I was a single woman in my late twenties, working in an architecture firm close to downtown. When choosing a place to live, it was important for me to find something that felt safe, was located within walking distance of work and other amenities, and was a unique place I could call my own. My backyard cottage was nestled along an alley among large trees and good neighbors. I even had outdoor space for a small garden!

I loved living in my backyard cottage, and often wondered why it wasn’t a more common option for Raleigh residents, especially given the fact that our city is growing by the day and is begging for density.

Now a member of the Raleigh Planning Commission and principal of a Raleigh based architecture firm, I am delighted that the current draft of the new UDO proposes to allow backyard cottages again in the City of Raleigh, after having been omitted from the existing zoning code many years prior. The proposed ordinance carefully takes into consideration allowable heights, massing, setbacks, parking, and access, and draws inspiration from other cities’ zoning codes who allow backyard cottages. All of these restrictions set out to assure the appropriate reintroduction of this important housing type into our city. The Planning Commission worked with city staff over the summer in order to refine the ordinance to a point we all felt confident recommending approval to City Council. 

Citizen support and opposition for the proposed ordinance have been well vetted to date, and my hope is that backyard cottages will be allowed again in the City of Raleigh. I believe the pros far outweigh the cons. We have to at least give it a chance. To address citizen concern, I believe the City of Raleigh should commit to revisit the issue after 3 years, fully assess the impacts, and address any shortcomings that may come to light once the ordinance is realized. 


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