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City leaders are considering allowing backyard cottages in select neighborhoods of Raleigh – a move that would pave the way for elderly relatives and young renters to take up residence.
The Raleigh City Council’s comprehensive planning committee voiced support for the cottage rules last week. Councilman Bonner Gaylord said he’s a fan of the plan.
“This is the time to take the bold step forward,” he said. “We know that we’re running out of land ... and how to densify is going to be a problem for the next 20 years.
“I think backyard cottages are a great way to be able to densify existing subdivisions and neighborhoods, provided we can find a way to mitigate any impacts neighbors might experience.”
A backyard cottage typically is a roughly 800-square-foot outbuilding with a kitchen, bathroom and living area. Sometimes known as “granny flats,” they’re popular for older relatives who want a private space. Cottage owners also rent to college students and others seeking a cheap place to live. They’re prohibited in Raleigh now, but the city does allow similar “utility apartments” attached to the main home.
Some council members wanted to ban backyard cottages on rental properties, but a state court ruling won’t allow that. Instead, the council is mulling a long list of regulations to make sure the tiny homes don’t become a nuisance. Among the proposed rules:
• No more than two people living in the cottage; no more than four unrelated people can live on the lot.
• Maximum square footage of each cottage is based on the size of the lot it’s on; setbacks from neighboring property lines are also required.
• Cottages must be built with similar or higher quality building materials than the main house.
• The cottage’s primary entrance must face the street.
The main controversy in last week’s debate was whether to allow the cottages citywide. A popular option is a pilot program for a single neighborhood that’s supportive of the idea.
Councilman Randy Stagner, who represents North Raleigh, said there’s no way he’d support cottages citywide. “In no corner of my district have I found support for that option,” he said, adding that “North Raleigh understands that we’re not the entire city.”
Many inside-the-Beltline neighborhoods don’t favor cottages either, though community leaders said they could support an opt-in program.
“Many of us moved to Raleigh because we don’t want a dense neighborhood,” said Linda Watson, chairwoman of the Glenwood Citizens Advisory Council. “My neighborhood is particularly at risk. We have deep backyards, big trees and we’re near (N.C.) State. This could be a disaster for our neighborhood.”
Other opponents of the cottages worry the complex restrictions could be hard to enforce. The city would likely assign an extra code enforcement officer to police them. Council members pointed out the enforcer might need to work nights and weekends, when unruly renters can cause problems.
“Is one position going to make any kind of measurable difference?” asked Mike Rieder, chairman of the Wade Citizens Advisory Council.
Rieder also took issue with a provision that would allow cottages citywide with a special permit from the Board of Adjustment. “I don’t understand how the Board of Adjustment is a protection,” he said. “I think you should trust the citizens, and you should trust us to opt in.”
The comprehensive planning committee voted to recommend approval of a backyard cottage pilot district, with the location to be determined later. The entire city council will likely take up the issue next month.