A new county proposal to allow backyard rental units, or Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) as the county calls them, in many zones throughout the county is not the answer to the county’s affordable housing needs. As proposed this widespread new county zoning change fails to include provisions that could help secure much needed affordable housing options. Instead it will more likely cause neighborhood and neighbor-to-neighbor conflict. The lack of oversight and enforcement as complaints arise is an issue, as is the potential for these units to get promoted as high-priced vacation and short-term rentals with no provisions for policing rental activity. With no requirements for owner occupancy of the main house on the property, both units can be rented.
As proposed, neighborhoods are not provided an opportunity for public comment on the addition of these rental units. Quiet neighborhoods will likely see more noise, traffic, blocked views, and loss of privacy. This zone change needs significant revision before the county commissioners make a final decision on this proposal.
The Flathead County commissioners held a public hearing on this proposal on Nov. 17 and, with the exception of a representative for the Realtor’s Association and a planning board member, those speaking and sending written comments overwhelmingly opposed this new zone change. The Commissioners tabled their final decision until Dec. 9 at 10 a.m. While the commissioners will not take comment at the 10 a.m. meeting, the public can email comments to the county commissioners up until this hearing at [email protected] and comments can be mailed to 800 S. Main St., Kalispell, MT 59901.
Citizens for a Better Flathead joined those urging the commissioners to revise this proposed zone. The changes we suggested included requiring neighborhoods or zoned areas to first petition and show support for the addition of ADUs to their area. We said this should include a public hearing process and the development of set standards for ADUs appropriate to that particular area. We said a one-size fits all policy wasn’t appropriate for the diverse neighborhoods of the valley. We recommended that the size and height of ADUs be capped and extra care be given to retaining existing trees, vegetation, and preventing degrading changes to neighborhood character.
We pointed out that a review of best practices for ADUs, across the northwest and nation, showed that making a condition of having an owner-occupied home on properties permitted to have ADUs helped ensure they were better managed. We encouraged the commissioners to put guidelines in place that, in return for the right to add an additional rental unit, the rents would be capped to ensure the additional housing would indeed be affordable. We noted that incentives, like property tax breaks, could help secure affordable rental rates as well. Our comments to the commissioners are on our web site at www.flatheadcitizens.org.
Affordable housing, options for seniors, single parents, and young families to remain in their homes or to find homes in desirable neighborhoods, or to obtain extra income, security, companionship, and services by adding ADUs are all important county and city concerns that need to be worked on jointly by these governing bodies. Accessory Dwelling Units can play an important role in addressing the evolving housing needs in a community if the standards for, and location of, such housing units are carefully drafted to provide safeguards for the property rights and expectations of those who have invested in homes and property based on the existing zoning and neighborhood character of the area.
Mayre Flowers, executive director
Citizens for a Better Flathead
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