Kalispell Revisits Proposal to Allow Mother-in-Law Units

Council held another work session after a separate ADU ordinance was killed in February; council to continue discussing new proposal

By Maggie Dresser
Kalispell City Hall on March 16, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Kalispell City Council revisited conversations about allowing accessory dwelling units (ADU), otherwise known as mother-in-law units, within certain zones at a June 14 work session, deciding to make amendments to the current proposed ordinance and return it to council at a future work session.

The ordinance would allow property owners to build a second dwelling unit on a lot with setback requirements, single-story limitations, an 18-foot height limit unless it meets the setbacks for a principal structure, a 1,000-square-foot limit and a limit of one parking space.

Proponents say ADUs would provide additional housing options, create secondary rental income for property owners, increase occupancy, and establish community living while maintaining privacy.

Critics cite potential negative impacts such as parking challenges, traffic, congestion, an increased demand in services and a changing neighborhood character.

Councilors voted to kill a similar ordinance in February during its second reading when Councilor Sid Daoud, who is a proponent of the ordinance, accidently requested to table it.

Some councilors reversed course during the second reading, which originally passed in a 7-2 vote in January, with Councilor Chad Graham and Mayor Mark Johnson in opposition.

At the June 14 work session, Graham remained unsupportive of the ordinance and defended his previous opinions concerning congested parking. He argued that ADUs would not add affordable housing to Kalispell.

“If you want to talk about this touching affordability, it isn’t going to touch affordability … They’re going to be market rate,” Graham said. “One of the reasons I do not get behind this is we’re selling something that’s not going to happen to the public. It’s written up in the paper as affordable housing and it is not.”

But Councilor Ryan Hunter argued Kalispell does not have a parking problem and the city is in desperate need of inventory. He also said the ordinance’s current limitations, including parking spaces and ADU size, are too restrictive.

“We are in such a crisis with housing in this community, we need the supply,” Hunter said. “I don’t want to hurt those options and reduce that opportunity for more units.”

Councilor Tim Kluesner expressed concerns that ADUs would change the character of neighborhoods and said 1,000 square feet is too large. He was also worried that some would be transformed into short-term rentals.

Three individuals spoke during public comment, all in support of the ordinance.

“I agree with Councilman Graham, this is not about affordable housing, it’s absolutely not,” Pam Carbonari, with the Kalispell Downtown Association and the city’s former mayor, said. “But it meets other challenges in our community … Let’s give it a try.”

Luke Rumage, a new Kalispell resident, also spoke in support for the ordinance.

“You guys don’t have an affordable housing problem; you have a housing problem,” Rumage said. “I’ve been living in a hotel the last two months and I would love to have my own place to live … Bringing something in that’s an accessory dwelling unit would not only help senior citizens who are looking to be closer to home but it would also help young adults who are trying to start their careers and move forward in life.”

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