District D Neighborhood Alliance (DDNA) is a listserve of leaders and community members in District D, represented by City Councilmember Thomas Crowder. The current conversation has initiated a new position and petition. Thomas states:

I would like to propose that BYC’s and ADU’s/apartments (with high standard requirements of course) be allowed as an entitlement option under the City’s Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District (NCOD) only. Rather than this entitlement becoming the rule for all neighborhoods within the city without restrictive covenants, it none the less becomes an exception for both old and new neighborhoods who wish to have this housing option. It also allows our citizens to have a say in, and control over, the future of their individual neighborhoods. As noted above, all of the high standards recommended by Mayor Pro-Tem Stephenson during the hearing should still be implemented as conditions for allowing BYC’s and ADU’s within an NCOD to protect these neighborhoods long term.

While many residents have spoken on this subject, the majority of Raleigh’s citizens are totally unaware of this provision within the proposed code. By making this entitlement an option under NCOD’s, each individual neighborhood resident will be made aware through public notice of the communities intent to allow them and before they are implemented. There will be no surprises and democracy at the highest level will prevail.

Thank you all for seriously considering this compromise proposal to allow backyard cottages and accessory apartment units where they are wanted and prohibited where they are problematic and not desired.

Under these conditions, BYCs would be illegal citywide, and only allowed as each neighborhood agrees that they should be allowed in their community. There were many DDNA members that spoke in support of this compromise, but not everyone in the DDNA agrees:

[This] version of a compromise will create absolutely no districts in Raleigh where this particular useful policy of the UDO could have affect. This is not because the majority of citizens would not support a change in policy, but rather due to the majority’s inherent indifference in making a change. On the other hand,
persons opposing BYC and ADU’s would have a much easier time convincing a neighborhood to ‘opt out’ if the neighborhood really wanted to. In other words, it is far easier to marshal supporters for a meeting to maintain the status quo rather than for change. This is one of the reasons why the UDO is such a special opportunity for our city…

…Cottage houses and accessory dwellings have had a long and successful history in cities such as Savannah, Richmond, etc. (cities who had larger populations than Raleigh until modern times). They contribute to a richer social fabric throughout the whole city when done properly.

Join the BYC conversation at today’s Comprehensive Planning Committee meeting at 2pm in Council Chambers.

The Comprehensive Planning Committee met yesterday to discuss the heavily debated topic of allowing backyard cottages (BYCs) in Raleigh. I encourage you to watch the meeting on the City of Raleigh’s streaming site for RTN11 (Raleigh Television Network). Follow these steps:

Russ Stephenson led the meeting, starting with the idea that BYCs are good in places where they improve the neighborhood, but have the potential to hurt a neighborhood, based in the fact that the City cannot regulate that lots with BYCs are homeowner-occupied.
Staff presented a Case Study showing the number of eligible and ineligible lots in 5 neighborhoods that would allow BYCs, and would work with the lot dimensions. There were 946 potential parcels that fit the square-footage criteria. Of these, 543 (57.4%) were eligible, and 403 (42.6%) were ineligible. Here is the breakdown per studied neighborhood:
  • Brentwood: 127 (66%) eligible, 64 (34%) ineligible
  • Five Points: 88 (62%) eligible, 54 (38%) ineligible
  • Drewry Hills: 34 (34%) eligible, 67 (66%) ineligible
  • Mordecai: 122 (53%) eligible, 108 (47%) ineligible
  • NC State: 110 (59%) eligible, 76 (41%) ineligible
  • Southwest: 49 (60%) eligible, 33 (40%) ineligible
Russ Stephenson proposed a set of standards (low and high) to regulate the design/quality of BYCs, as a way to allow BYCs while setting restrictions to ease concerns. The elements that he proposed would be regulated varied from parking/driveway surfaces (erodible or nonerodible), to setting a maximum number of unrelated residents (4-6 or 3 or less).
The floor was opened to public comments, and nearly everyone present spoke. There were many who spoke against BYCs, but there were more supporters. See the video to hear all comments. I spoke at 2:15:18. In the coming days, I will highlight the positions of some of these people to show a range of perspectives.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Committee reviewed a list of topics for further research. The next Committee meeting to discuss BYCs is yet to be scheduled.

Here is an invitation I received for the Comprehensive Planning Committee meeting that will be held tomorrow. Please attend to share the voice of the public.

The City Council’s Comprehensive Planning Committee will hold its initial Backyard Cottages (BYCs) discussion next Wednesday, November 14th in Council Chambers. The meeting starts at 5pm and this item will be discussed beginning at approximately 5:30pm.

This meeting is open to anyone, but in seeking a good distribution of opinions and ideas, I’ve asked the Mayor and Councilors to help suggest citizens – including you, who:

  • may have an interest in this discussion, and if so, who:
  • live in a neighborhood where BYCs would be permitted
  • are able to represent the interests of the neighborhood where you live 
  • are willing to work toward an outcome that promotes BYCs where they will improve nearby property values and discourages them where they will hurt property values

If you cannot attend, you will be able to (1) watch the meeting later via streaming video on the City website and provide comments via email and/or (2) provide comments at a second meeting on this topic, most likely on November 28th.

Linda Watson is the Glenwood CAC (Citizens Advisory Council) Chair, and writer and blogger on organic cooking. She has many posts on the Raleigh UDO website expressing her opinions on BYCs and the UDO. She is primarily concerned with the negative affects of rental properties in stable neighborhoods, needing more design regulations, and losing green space. This was Linda’s response:

Thanks so much for asking about backyard cottages (2nd houses).

Here’s the petition and here’s my op-ed piece on them. Here are illustrations of how the setbacks work and an example of how a rental property could tower over a small house across the rear lot line.

In another response, she said:

More on why I’m against having backyard cottages approved by default in established neighborhoods:

I would like to reframe our discussion a bit. [Russ Stephenson] wrote that you want people who:

are willing to work toward an outcome that promotes BYCs where they will improve nearby property values and discourages them where they will hurt property values

I’d like to change this to say “quality of life and property values.” Property values are most important when you are leaving a neighborhood. Quality of life is what keeps you there.

For example, allowing backyard cottages in the Ridgewood area could be said to make our properties more valuable.  The draft UDO essentially doubles the density from R-4 to R-8. This might increase the price I could get for my house by $20K, but I’d have to move to realize that gain. This would be a huge hassle and expense. It would take me away from a garden which I’ve been planning on the scale of decades, not years, with fruit trees finally about to produce. Worst of all, it would take me away from a neighborhood where I’ve developed many friendships.

Raleigh should strive to reduce turnover in residential neighborhoods. Neighbors who know each other look out for each other.

I’m quite sure you support focusing on quality of life too, but want us to actively think about this aspect as we seek solutions. There’s more to life than money.

Thomas Crowder is a City Councilmember, representing District D. He opposes BYCs in Raleigh, concerned that they will have negative affects on Raleigh’s neighborhoods. This was Thomas’s response:

While I agree BYC’s in concept are a noble concept, I do have concerns regarding the unintended consequences that have not been fully discussed and vetted, which led to the ban of BYC’s and rooming houses in Raleigh during the early 1970’s.  These units were banned due to the growing degradation of the quality of life in neighborhoods such as Boylan Heights, Cameron Park, Hayes Barton, Oakwood and University Park.  In the late sixties and early seventies these Pre-World War II single-family neighborhoods were in decline and being consumed by rental investors.  Overcrowding and poor living conditions were leading to blight and deterrents to homeownership reinvestment in these communities.  It was the beginning of suburban sprawl and potential urban blight, except for numerous comprehensive efforts made by many dedicated residents to preserve these communities.  Otherwise, Raleigh’s inside the beltline would more closely resemble Atlanta or Richmond today, with the loss of many historic communities.  The comprehensive list of measures, which included our school diversity policies is way too long to discuss at the moment, so I will keep my focus on backyard cottages (BYC’s) and reasons why they were outlawed. With that little bit of history, I want to first go over the perceived pros and cons of Backyard Cottages and Accessory Dwelling Units. The pros, as perceived by many, are:

  • Increased density to thwart urban sprawl.
  • Affordable housing stock.
  • Income stream for property owners.
  • Living in place.

 The cons as perceived by many, are:

  • Increasing single-family lot density by 50% | Four unrelated individuals in the primary residence and two unrelated individuals in the BYC’s or accessory dwelling units.
  • Increased parking strains on single-family lots | Front yards dominated by parking.
  • Reduced rear yard setbacks and loss of backyard privacy.
  • Abuses by rental investors and absentee landlords | Poor design and construction quality and lack of property management and maintenance leading to decreased property values.

 I would like to state I am a huge proponent and advocate of the pro-goals many believe BYC’s and ADU’s will accomplish.  However; for many reasons I do not believe BYC’s and ADU’s will accomplish them for the following reasons:

  • Decreasing Urban Sprawl:  Planning staff states BYC’s in Portland (the model they researched) have only been implemented on 3% of the single-family properties in the city.  If Raleigh is to expect the same percentage, this will not deter sprawl.  Furthermore if lower and moderate income at-risk communities lose their livability and appeal, this segment of our population who desires a single-family living environment will move out of the city.
  • Affordable Housing:  A 2007 study performed by a UNC Planning Masters Student indicates the results of NC non-profits surveyed to determine the barriers and facilitators to developing affordable housing stock.  Rooming houses were found to be the next to last least effective means of providing affordable housing and BYC’s were deemed the least effective.  I have attached a copy of the study’s executive summary for your review.  Furthermore, the most effective way to furnish mixed-income (I do not like the term “affordable” as it is a relative term) housing stock in Raleigh, locating units within and directly adjacent to mixed-use centers with transit options is the most effective way to help lower and moderate income citizens.  First, eliminating the need for a car allows for more income to go towards housing, food and clothing.  Secondly, proximity to these centers provides jobs and retail opportunities within close walking and biking distance.  Exiling these units into lower density suburban neighborhoods eliminates these opportunities.
  • While BYC’s could furnish an income stream for lower and moderate income homeowners, they also can increase income for rental investors.  Portland requires BYC’s be located on owner occupied lots.  This is for good reason.  Absentee landlords, particularly those whose market is single-family properties are disinvested from the neighborhoods they are located in.  Property management is often poor or non-existent.  Property maintenance in often poor and private sector rental investors are less likely to construct well designed high quality units.  Even if Raleigh enacted strict construction and material guidelines, they may not be long lived.  The current legislature has a draft bill in a study committee, which would prevent design standards for all NC properties zoned R-5 and less.  This is in response to good legislation in Huntersville and Davidson, NC where these small towns are requiring a higher than normal standard of design.  Furthermore, due to a recent court case, North Carolina cannot restrict such units to owner occupied properties.
  • Living in Place: The lack of BYC’s or ADU’s do not eliminate the opportunity to live in place, or provide accommodations for relatives to cohabitate, or accommodate in-house nursing or renters.  They do allow single-family properties to turn into rental duplexes.

  I have been to your blog site.  You have shown many wonderful examples of well-designed and well constructed “small spaces” for living.  As an architect and planner, I too strive for and seek more efficient, space saving concepts.  Unfortunately, Raleigh has a long history of not so wonderfully designed structures, particularly in our lower and moderate income communities.  While barriers to good design can be eliminated through legislation, good design unfortunately cannot be legislated.  We therefore must consider all unintended consequences when considering development options and I hope you will agree.  For that reason, along with my knowledge of the history of this subject in Raleigh the detriments by allowing BYC’s far out weight’s the benefits.

Before the Comprehensive Planning Committee discusses backyard cottages, I contacted a few people that have expressed concern about BYCs to better understand their perspectives.

Russ Stephenson is the City of Raleigh Mayor Pro Tem and Councilor At-Large. He lives on Oberlin Road and has two accessory structures on his property. He generally supports BYCs, but is cautious with their implementation in Raleigh. In an email response, he said:

As I said to you and at the UDO meeting yesterday, BYCs (backyard cottages) are a great idea when they improve neighborhoods and neighborhood property values. For years I have been an advocate for owner-occupied BYCs and have studied best practices in other cities, looking to legalize them in Raleigh.
Unfortunately, NC courts recently struck down owner-occupancy provisions of NC BYC ordinances.  My concern now is that in vulnerable neighborhoods with depressed values, we will be expanding a ready market for absentee investors whose top priority is maximizing profits by minimizing investments, upkeep and neighborhood accountability.
These concerns are not citywide, which leads to the widely adopted notion that our new UDO will provide “The Right Rules in the Right Places.” What this means is that we need to think creatively about how to apply BYC rules in ways and in locations that will improve property values rather than hurt them.

Yesterday I attended the City Council review of Chapter 2, which includes Backyard Cottages.

The subject was discussed briefly, and quickly deferred to the Comprehensive Planning Committee for further review. It was immediately apparent that there are many supporters and many protestors.

The concerns brought up are based primarily in the fact that NC Courts have made it illegal to regulate that the home-owner live on the property. Therefore, a single-family property has the potential of becoming a rental property with an absentee owner, which could mean up to 6 “unrelated renters.”

To find out when Backyard Cottages will be discussed at a Comprehensive Planning Committee meeting, review the agenda before the next meeting, or check back soon.


The review of the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) continues to progress.

The Planning Commission has extensively reviewed the UDO Draft, and presented their recommendations to the City Council in September. City Council is currently reviewing the draft, chapter by chapter, and will vote on its adoption in December. The public is welcome to attend their review meetings, which take place in the Council Chambers. The meeting schedule (download pdf) and UDO documents are available online at the City of Raleigh website.

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s) will be covered in City Council’s next meeting, reviewing Chapter 2: Residential Districts (download pdf). Attend the meeting this Monday October 15 4-6pm at City Hall to follow the discussion in person, or check back soon for a summary.