Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 23, 2012

New ADU approach offers city more stability


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---- — The last time Traverse City talked about allowing so-called "granny flats," or accessory dwelling units as they're more formally called, there was plenty of neighborhood opposition, a lot of it from Central Neighborhood.

Criticism of the idea then focused largely on traffic, parking and privacy concerns. But there were also worries about ADUs possibly transforming — for the worse — established city neighborhoods. Central neighborhood residents, in particular, were concerned that many of the neighborhood's iconic alley-side garages would become rentals catering to a clientele that was more transient than the neighborhood was used to.

They also worried that, given the number of large homes and garages in the area, a substantial number of ADUs could be created in a relatively short time and change the nature of the neighborhood.

City planners have come back with a new ADU proposal that appears to address some of those concerns. It's worth looking at.

The new plan would allow ADUs in only two neighborhoods — Kids Creek, which is south of West Front Street and west of Division near Munson Medical Center, and Traverse Heights, which lies south of East Eighth and west of Garfield. Both neighborhoods feature a more diverse housing stock than the Central or Oak Park neighborhoods, for instance, and may be better suited for ADUs.

City planner Russ Soyring said ADUs can offer more diverse and more affordable housing but also potential income to homeowners.

The new ADU proposal includes a number of conditions, including limiting the units to five per year in the city (easing concerns about an ADU stampede) and requiring the homeowner to live in one of the two units. Lots must be at least 5,000 square feet and only one ADU is allowed per parcel for a maximum of two dwellings.

Portions of both neighborhoods under consideration are zoned for two-family use, but the proposed ADU ordinance would provide a little more flexibility in where second dwellings could be built on the property, Soyring said.

One of Traverse City's great strengths is its housing stock and the number of established neighborhoods, where property values are more stable and homeowners feel safe in their investments. While it's also important to offer residents the opportunity to bring in additional income, that must be done without jeopardizing the ambiance and feel of an established neighborhood.

Low and slow is the way to approach a zoning change that has such potential for good — and bad. With more rules in place this time around, ADUs may find a home.