Garage apartments now legal; duplex move stalls

A change speedily approved Monday night will allow garage apartments and similar “secondary units” on single-family lots throughout the city, with the potential, over time, to significantly increase the number of residences in single-family neighborhoods.

But a sister provision to allow many more duplexes on single-family lots has drawn protests from some neighborhoods. Action on that measure has been delayed until October.

Both proposals are part of the city’s long-term strategy to try to spread less-expensive housing throughout the city without overwhelming any single area. The thinking was that allowing garage apartments and duplexes could add more housing to established neighborhoods without adding large apartment projects that are more likely to change a neighborhood’s character.

 But at the public hearing for both proposals on June 18, several speakers – one from Stonehaven and another from the Myers Park Homeowners Association – spoke against the duplexes idea. Mike Doyne of Stonehaven, an architect, said he’s worried that allowing so many duplexes will lead to an increase in rental housing in neighborhoods that are now primarily owner-occupied. “It basically rezones everything (in single-family neighborhoods) in a shotgun manner,” Doyne said in an interview. “It’s an ad hoc rezoning.”

The proposal from planners would allow duplexes on lots in single-family residential zoning districts (R-3, R-4, R-5 and R-6) with no need for rezoning. No more than two duplexes could be side-by-side on any block face. The city already allows duplexes on any corner lot, even in neighborhoods zoned for single-family residences.

“I don’t think people understand the magnitude of this,” Doyne said.

Want to read more?

To read the duplexes proposal, click here.

• To read the accessory dwelling unit ordinance change, click here.

Planning consultant Walter Fields has concerns as well. “As a city planner, I appreciate density,” Fields said in an interview. “But a single-family community, I think, expects to be single-family.”

But the other part of the proposal sailed through the Charlotte City Council on Monday night with no debate. It changes the city’s zoning ordinance to allow wider use of garage apartments, carriage houses and so-called “granny flats.” The city calls them “accessory dwelling units,” and the change allows them on single-family lots throughout the city with far fewer restrictions on who can live there. Until the change, they were restricted to housing for elderly or disabled relatives of the homeowner, guest houses or servants’ quarters.

The accessory units can’t be larger than 35 percent of the area of the primary dwelling, and no larger than 800 heated square feet.

It’s a move other cities have made. Davidson, for example, allows and encourages garage apartments and similar units. The St. Alban’s Square neighborhood, built in the early 2000s, offered one-bedroom garage apartments as an option for home-buyers, and about 15 percent of the townhomes have them.   

A 2009 report from the American Planning Association says this about accessory units: “The benefits to the home owner and the ADU occupant are many.” Homeowners can use the units to house elderly parents or grown children just starting careers, or can rent them out for extra income, helping make the main home more affordable. “Leasing an ADU to a young person or family can provide an elderly homeowner with a sense of security and an opportunity to exchange needed work around the house and yard for a discount on rent,” the APA report notes.

What APA says about accessory units

Read the American Planning Association report on accessory dwelling units: Click here.

“ADUs are a particularly desirable option for many communities today considering the current economic climate, changes in household size, increasing numbers of aging baby boomers, and the shortage of affordable housing choices,” the APA report says. “They provide a low-impact way for a community to expand its range of housing choices.”

The zoning change doesn’t affect private deed restrictions that in many neighborhoods already prohibit more than one dwelling per lot.

Several council members said they’d heard little from constituents about the ADU ordinance change – or about the duplexes proposal. Although both proposals had been discussed in city council committee meetings and were part of a plan the council approved in June 2011, neither received much public attention until the public hearing. And newer neighborhoods are more likely to be governed by homeowners’ associations and strict deed restrictions, which would ban duplexes and ADUs regardless of the city zoning ordinance.