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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

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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

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.

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.