Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 17, 2013

Traverse Heights may be first to test granny flats

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — North Traverse Heights could become the city’s first neighborhood to allow the addition of small rental apartments to single-family homes, a test case with potentially broad implications for the rest of the town.

City planning commissioners this month adopted a proposed zoning change to allow accessory dwelling units, and city commissioners on Monday will introduce the plan for a public hearing. Mayor Michael Estes warned planning commissioners to be careful with the ordinance because a previous attempt to permit the so-called granny flats didn’t go over well in many parts of the community.

“It’s better to go low-key, with the most restrictions you can have to start,” Estes told city planners. “It will be very difficult if it doesn’t work, and I can assure you it will not expand to other areas of the city.”

City planners previously recommended granny flats be allowed city-wide with certain conditions, but the city commission in 2007 rebuffed the idea amid traffic, parking and privacy concerns raised by residents in some neighborhoods.

Planning commissioners worked on the new plan since fall and the proposed ordinance was well-received by neighborhood residents, said Mike Powers, president of the North Traverse Heights Neighborhood Association.

“It’s been a sensitive issue, but I really hope it works out so people can use their properties to support their families,” Powers said. “But it seems like it’s going to be difficult for people to create these.

“It’s complicated enough that we would need a workshop on how to create an ADU in our neighborhood,” he said.

The ordinance allows homeowners who live in an area bordered by Eighth Street, Garfield Avenue, Centre Street and Boardman Lake to convert up to 40 percent of their dwelling as a separate living space for non-family members. Homeowners must live on the property, and each rental unit must have 250-square feet of floor space per person, as well as onsite paved parking.

Accessory dwelling units can exist inside the main home or in a detached building, such as a garage, which is included when calculating the overall size of a dwelling.

Some residents joined planning commissioner Gary Howe in expressing concerns the ordinance might be overly restrictive.

“The ordinance ... is so careful for the people who object to ADUs that we might get two and then we’re done,” Howe said.

Brian Haas, a resident of the Old Town neighborhood, said external stairways already pepper city neighborhoods and the ordinance’s internal stairway requirement eats up valuable living space.

Ordinance restrictions mean too many people who have small homes won’t be able to generate income from their property, said Joe Mollica, who lives near downtown.

“In these times we need opportunities,” Mollica said. “You’re taking away people’s right to rent their property if they need it to survive because of ... economic struggles.”

Estes said he expects it will require city commissioners a couple of meetings to review the ordinance and gauge community reaction before they decide whether to adopt or reject the proposal.