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The Comprehensive Planning Committee (CPC) met on January 23rd to finalize the public discussion of including Backyard Cottages (BYCs) in Raleigh’s new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). This was the last time citizens could join the public discussion. The goal of the meeting was for the CPC to come to a consensus for its proposal to the City Council.

You can watch the meeting on the City of Raleigh’s streaming site for RTN11 (Raleigh Television Network). Follow these steps:

Russ Stephenson proposed additional development standards, clarified other regulations, and introduced a document submittal requirement. Rear and side setbacks were increased due to privacy and fire safety. This also includes an additional increase to side setbacks depending on the height of the BYC. The former regulation of a max of 4 unrelated people per property was further defined to say only 2 people (related or not) in the BYC. There was some additional discussion of adult vs. child and resident vs. long-term guests. Other regulations were introduced for quality assurance and privacy – the BYC should be made of similar materials and roof form as the primary residence, and windows should be offset or screened from neighboring residences. The document submittal requirement would include site plan, plan, and primary elevation with additional notes and information.

The CPC agreed to propose the development standards in its complete and revised form, which would include modifications made by Russ Stephenson.

The second part of the CPC proposal to City Council refers to how BYCs will be implemented in Raleigh. The CPC agreed to an “opt-in/neighborhood pilot” where Council will create a overlay boundary where BYCs would be allowed, following the development standards. The neighborhood/boundary would be selected with extensive neighborhood engagement. It is considered a “pilot,” because Council could later modify the boundary to include more neighborhoods, or make it citywide.

The CPC will present its proposal to City Council on February 5th. The Council will vote on adopting the revisions.

See the CPC draft proposal in its current state with Russ Stephenson’s comments here:

CPC 112112 Backyard Cottages+RS3

The Comprehensive Planning Committee will discuss BYCs at their next meeting, Wednesday January 23 at 5pm in Council Chambers. This is the third, and potentially final, meeting before the Committee presents their recommendations to City Council.

Download the agenda packet for this meeting. It includes proposed modifications and additions to the accessory dwelling regulations. 

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. 

Indianapolis Accessory Dwelling Unit

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.

North Alabama Street Indianapolis Accessory Dwelling Unit 01 North New Jersey Street Indianapolis Accessory Dwelling Unit 01 North New Jersey Street Indianapolis Accessory Dwelling Unit 02

As the Comprehensive Planning Committee continues the discussion of Backyard Cottages (BYCs) and attempts to craft a compromise, the local media has picked up on the highly divided perspectives of city officials and the public.

Ariella Monti of the Raleigh Public Record summarizes the overall discussion of backyard cottages. It’s an informative article to those who are new to this conversation. She paints a complete story, starting with a definition, relating them to Raleigh, and explaining why people support or oppose the building type. Read the full article online.

On the cover of the current issue of Indy Week, one of the headlines reads “Outlawing Granny Flats.” Will Huntsberry highlights the diverging perspectives from last week’s Comprehensive Planning Committee meeting discussing backyard cottages. Read the full article online, or find a free copy of the printed edition this week scattered throughout town.

The Comprehensive Planning Committee met on November 21 to continue the discussion of allowing Backyard Cottages (BYCs) in Raleigh. You can watch the meeting on the City of Raleigh’s streaming site for RTN11 (Raleigh Television Network). Follow these steps:

Staff began the discussion reviewing the topics covered or recommended for further research at the last meeting (November 14), including occupancy standards, parking requirements, size/setback regulations, design standards, overlay district regulations, and peer city research. Staff proposed these suggested modifications as topics for discussion:

  • Increase rear yard setback to 20 feet
  • Decrease building separation to 10 feet
  • Cap the number of unrelated people on the property at 4
  • Require paved parking spaces
  • Require similar building materials and roof forms of BYC to main house
  • Regulate primary entrance location – not to be at rear property
  • Use a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District (NCOD) to regulate BYCs by neighborhood

Download the complete staff report to read further.

One area of focus was whether an “opt-in” situation would be a fair compromise. This would mean that BYCs would not be allowed city-wide, and a neighborhood could opt-in to allow BYCs with their specific regulations. People in support said this would protect all neighborhoods, and allow for BYCs to be allowed in only the neighborhoods that want them. People in opposition said that this would be the equivalent of keeping BYCs illegal, as it would be near impossible to gain the support of an entire neighborhood when only one citizen might be interested in building a BYC.
Another talking point was whether slumlords would exploit BYCs. Some worry that investors will purchase houses with the intent of building a BYC and maximizing on the rental potential of the property. They are also concerned that slumlords will build a BYC on an existing rental property to gain more income. These concerns are based in the idea that these properties will have low building standards, increase the number of undesired renters, and degrade the quality of existing neighborhoods.
Others believe that this is an issue that doesn’t revolve around BYCs, and that slumlords would not be interested in building BYCs. Currently, slumlords can build an attached accessory dwelling and exploit it in the same way that people are concerned BYCs will be exploited. These slumlords would rather build an attached unit taking advantage of existing infrastructure, rather than investing in the extra expense of constructing a new BYC with the additional costs of new plumbing and electric lines, and extra construction costs of foundation and grading.
This issue has yet to be resolved. The Committee recommended staff to research the idea of opting-in or opting-out of allowing BYCs, or potentially creating a new BYC Overlay District. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for December 5th.

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.