Kalispell to Consider Allowing Mother-in-Law Units in Some City Areas

Councilors will vote on the ordinance on Tuesday, Jan. 19

By Maggie Dresser
Kalispell City Hall. Beacon file photo

After multiple city council work sessions and a planning board hearing where officials discussed the possibility of allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs), also known as mother-in-law apartments, the city council will vote on the proposed ordinance at its next meeting on Jan. 19.

The planning board approved the motion to allow the units on Dec. 15 in a 6-1 vote with Board President and City Councilor Chad Graham opposing. At the council’s most recent work session on Jan. 11, councilors generally agreed that ADUs should be allowed in some parts of Kalispell, but there was no consensus regarding details such as zoning, administrative conditional-use permits, parking and density.

According to the proposal, ADUs have impacts including parking, traffic, congestion and increased demand in services, while previous staff discussions determined there were also benefits including additional housing options for the city, secondary rental income opportunities for property owners, increased occupancy on a plot of land and communal living potential.

In addition to ADUs that are already allowed with conditional-use permits within the city, the proposal would allow ADUs in certain downtown Kalispell zones with specific design requirements. They must meet setback requirements, or minimum distance from another structure, road or watershed, and there must be three total parking spaces for two units, a limited height of 18 feet, a single story and no more than 1,000 square feet.

As a proponent of the potential ADU ordinance, Councilor Ryan Hunter would like to see the structures allowed citywide with fewer restrictions, including parking limits, to boost participation.

“I look at my block and there’s plenty of on-street parking,” Hunter said. “Even if you did see gangbusters (of ADUs) you’re looking at maybe one ADU on any given block … They’re going to be dispersed throughout the zoning districts.”

However, Graham was concerned that loosening restrictions would allow property owners too much freedom, like building ADUs in aesthetically unpleasing areas such as driveways or front yards. He also expressed concerns about the potential ordinance extending to the entire city in the future.

“My biggest concern is that I don’t want to see this going citywide to the other residential zones,” Graham said. “To me that is moving the goal post when it comes to density.”

Mayor Mark Johnson suggested potentially using an administrative conditional-use permit, which would mean a lengthier process and potential for denial, but Councilor Sid Daoud and Hunter opposed this option.

Several public comments were submitted regarding the ADU proposal, most of which supported the proposal, including the Northwest Montana Association of Realtors (NMAR).

“Not only do backyard cottages or garage apartments provide additional units of affordable housing into a community, they also provide a revenue stream for the existing homeowner that might ease a financial burden allowing them to stay in their home,” NMAR Public Affairs Director Erica Wirtala wrote.

Some negative comments were also received.

“The proposed modification of permitted uses to allow multiple accessory structures that can be used for residential occupation by renters will result in increased occupancy density and lower levels of home maintenance and yard maintenance,” Kalispell resident James Malone wrote. “The overall long term effect will lower home monetary values, increase crime, and lower ‘pride of ownership.'”

Public comment can be sent to publiccomment@kalispell.com or verbally during the Jan. 19 videoconference.

To register, visit www.kalispell.com.


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