In Raleigh, a push to lift the ban on granny flats | Wake County | Indy Week
Pin It

In Raleigh, a push to lift the ban on granny flats 

Get outta my back yard!

Photo by D.L. Anderson

Get outta my back yard!

As the war continues in Syria and another pauses in Gaza, a battle of different proportions rages in Raleigh's downtown neighborhoods: People are fighting over tiny houses.

Regulating tiny houses, also known as backyard cottages, may epitomize just how boring the business of Raleigh City Hall can be. Yet it's a piece of business that has led the civically engaged to verbally spar in public meetings and on neighborhood listservs.

For decades, the construction of detached backyard cottages has been banned throughout Raleigh. City staffers have suggested that the prohibition be lifted, which has led to predictions that it will kill neighborhoods.

"I really didn't think it was going to be such a big issue until I walked into this meeting," says Councilor Bonner Gaylord. He was sitting in his office after a Comprehensive Planning Committee meeting Nov. 21, during which people used such terminology as "death sentence," "monstrosity" and "slumlords."

Gaylord is on the side of backyard cottages. He describes what he believes is driving opponents' fears: "People envision these monstrous chicken coops in their backyards that hold recently released prisoners. I don't see that as what typically happens on the ground."

On the other side is Councilor Thomas Crowder, who believes backyard cottages will lead to urban blight in downtown neighborhoods and a return to the middle-class flight of the 1970s. "If lower, moderate-income neighborhoods lose their appeal, single families will move out of the city," he says.

Raleigh planners studied the backyard-cottage model of progressive cities such as Portland, Seattle and Santa Cruz to develop the current proposal. It would allow detached dwellings citywide as long as they are built to code. The city studied several downtown neighborhoods and found that only 57 percent of properties would have a lot large enough to add a detached dwelling.

Like the cities that were studied, Raleigh has long sought to increase downtown density and affordable housing options. Backyard cottages don't put a big dent in either of those goals, but they do represent a small tool in the urban planning toolbox. The dwellings are also referred to as granny flats, because many families build them for older relatives.

Opponents believe the doorway to slumlord kingdoms is left open by one particular provision: The proposal doesn't require the property owner to live in one of the two dwellings. There can be no such requirement because a recent court decision outlawed owner-occupancy regulations statewide.

Raleigh city planners say that in Portland, where owner occupancy is also not required, slumlords have not invaded or blighted neighborhoods.

"Not to my knowledge has that happened anywhere in the country," says city planner Ken Bowers. "It is a fear people have and it is not my place to say whether it's unreasonable, but no one else has said this is a problem."

Moreover, attached dwelling units, often connected by no more than a breezeway, are allowed in Raleigh and also don't require owner occupancy.

"If renters want to do what these fearful sounding folks are saying, I think they'd slap a structure on to their existing slum rental property," said Josh Whiton, founder of an urban farm in downtown Raleigh, at the recent committee meeting. "They could share a wall, share the plumbing and reap the rewards. I don't think this backyard cottage thing is quite their M.O."

Mary Belle Pate is a retired teacher who has been a community advocate in southwest Raleigh for more than 30 years. "As the old houses change hands, the semi-slumlords will jump in and buy them, because they are more affordable," she argued at the meeting. "If these come to my neighborhood, my neighborhood will no longer exist and be a very unpleasant place to live."

Crowder has created what he calls the "compromise" position. He wants to allow neighborhoods to "opt-in" to allow backyard cottages. The details of the opt-in—whether it would be for individual properties or neighborhood-wide, and whether it would be accomplished by petition—haven't been finalized. Pate and others strongly favor this approach.

But proponents of detached dwellings consider the opt-in a "death sentence," as Raleigh designer Nicole Alvarez called it at the meeting. She believes it would make the process so onerous that backyard cottages couldn't flourish.

Gaylord's compromise would increase design standards on backyard cottages to discourage slumlords. "But if we add the opt-in, we might as well not do it at all."

This article appeared in print with the headline "A big fight over tiny houses."

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Wake County



Twitter Activity

Most Recent Comments

Based on having visited a number of friends at the Sir Walter over the years it is not quite accurate …

by Hank living downtown on When the Sir Walter Apartments Building Is Sold, Raleigh May Lose 140 Affordable Units (Wake County)

I spent some months this spring and summer looking for subsidized housing where I could retire on SSI income. While …

by Bill Robinson on When the Sir Walter Apartments Building Is Sold, Raleigh May Lose 140 Affordable Units (Wake County)

The republicans were voted into office in NC using the same voter laws they now want to change....Why are they …

by Tony D on Wake’s Early Voting Debate Illustrates Why It’s Time to Rethink Partisan Elections Boards (Wake County)

Yes. If course. That's correct. I'm not saying that U-238 is not a concern; obviously it is, or a maximum …

by ct on From 2010–2014, Wake County Found 40 Private Wells with Dangerous Levels of Uranium. Then It Stopped Testing. (Wake County)

"But even then, U-238 is far less worrisome than the radioactive substance in almost every household smoke detector."

Very …

by insightus on From 2010–2014, Wake County Found 40 Private Wells with Dangerous Levels of Uranium. Then It Stopped Testing. (Wake County)

Comments

Based on having visited a number of friends at the Sir Walter over the years it is not quite accurate …

by Hank living downtown on When the Sir Walter Apartments Building Is Sold, Raleigh May Lose 140 Affordable Units (Wake County)

I spent some months this spring and summer looking for subsidized housing where I could retire on SSI income. While …

by Bill Robinson on When the Sir Walter Apartments Building Is Sold, Raleigh May Lose 140 Affordable Units (Wake County)

© 2016 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation