Dean Rains is an architect in downtown Raleigh. He shares an interesting perspective on accessory dwellings, having experienced their benefits first-hand in the communities he lived in prior to moving to the Triangle. Read his thoughts below, and see pictures of accessory dwellings he and his colleagues have worked on in Indianapolis.
I’m a Midwestern native and am very familiar with seeing accessory dwellings on many older neighborhood blocks, as well as newly revitalized blocks. I believe they’re beneficial for many reasons dealing with function, safety, and aesthetics. I strongly believe they’re a great option for communities, and they also offer the opportunity incorporate some pretty cool design into the spaces.
For many years, I lived in various historic neighborhoods in Indianapolis and Cincinnati, where alleys were quite common. This foundation of block layout is almost essential in creating accessory dwelling units. Of course, residential alleys can be hard to maintain, and pressing the city services to maintain them as public streets can certainly be an uphill battle.
That said, my experience has been very positive with detached or accessory units. Many of my friends lived in “carriage” houses behind the main structure. These are often owned by the family, who resides in the main house, and allow support for younger or older members of the family by allowing them independence without being too far away. Many college-aged adults rent these units and kept them for years. As they are part of a home lot, the owners and renters tend to keep the maintenance and appearance to a higher quality than some other types of rental units.
Carriage houses can also provide safety. Many people opt to live in the carriage houses as it offers another layer of security with more people living on one lot, looking out for each other.
Additionally, a higher density is achieved, and impromptu meetings with owners and neighbors help create a sense of community.
Back to the alleys – We used our alley frequently, and this is where we would often greet our neighbors who lived behind us. Waste bins and vehicle access was pushed to the alleys which helped with security and street aesthetics, as well as diverting some traffic. This also allowed the front door of the lot to be a true front door with a porch, without a 3-car garage and wide driveway. This, too, further creates sense of community and charm in the neighborhood through a lot arrangement that allows for a more close-knit, secure and livable community.
Aesthetically, the arrangement of a large home along with a smaller accessory unit can open up great opportunities for courtyards, gardens and open spaces between them. It also helps create positive massing. Many older communities have started to re-build with this concept as a model using modern or traditional design approaches with great success. This draws people into the neighborhood and is a catalyst for new development as residents see the positive impact it has on a community.