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The County recently made substantial changes to the rules governing accessory dwelling units (ADUs). These changes set forth in Zoning Text Amendment 19-01 (ZTA 19-01) “Accessory Residential Uses – Accessory Apartments” and companion Bill 22-19 Accessory Dwelling Units – Licensing Requirements Amendments went into effect on December 31, 2019. The following material explains what an ADU is, what the new County rules for ADUs are, and rules for ADUs in the Town.
What is an ADU?
An ADU is a second dwelling unit located on a lot with a single-family house. An ADU is subordinate to the house. An attached ADU is one that is located inside the house, often in the basement. A detached ADU is one that is in an accessory building in a rear yard (e.g., a converted garage, a “tiny” house, a granny pod, a prefabricated unit).
What problem is ZTA 19-01 trying to solve?County Council member Hans Riemer introduced ZTA 19-01 to encourage the creation of more ADUs in single-family neighborhoods throughout the county. Proponents of the ZTA see ADUs as a means of producing additional housing options, whether for extended families or as a source of supplemental income. ADUs are also seen as a means of increasing the supply of affordable housing, though there are no provisions in the ZTA to ensure affordability.
What are the County’s rules for ADUs as of December 31, 2019?
County Rules for both Attached and Detached ADUs:
Additional County Rules for Attached ADUs
Additional County Rules for Detached ADUs
ADUs in the Town
What was the Town’s position on ZTA 19-01?
The Town Council, assisted by the Land Use Committee, kept up with each phase of ZTA 19-01’s progress. Mayor Barney Rush testified for the Town at the Planning Board’s February 14, 2019 hearing and Council member Joel Rubin testified for the Town at the County Council’s February 26, 2019 public hearing. They conveyed the Town’s support for most of the ZTA’s provisions.
The Town also expressed the position that size limits should be retained on ADUs and that existing accessory buildings converted to detached ADUs should not be exempt from setbacks. Following the County Council’s June 2019 work session, the Town sent a letter expressing support for several of the changes made to the proposed ZTA arising from the work session review. The letter specifically referenced the Town’s support for the following modifications to the initial draft ZTA:
The Town again requested that existing accessory buildings converted to detached ADUS not be exempt from setbacks. Read the letter.
Can the Town regulate ADUs?
Yes, to some extent. The Town has the authority to regulate the setbacks, height, and mass of buildings in the Town, the amount of impervious surfaces, stormwater runoff, tree removal, and parking. The Town’s rules can be more restrictive, but not less restrictive than the County’s rules. Thus, the Town can regulate some aspects of an addition to a house used for an attached ADU and of an accessory building used for a detached ADU.
If the Town does not change its current rules for accessory buildings, what could happen with detached ADUs in the Town?
Under current Town and County rules, a detached garage built before May 31, 2012 can be converted to an ADU without regard to setbacks (older garages often sit on or very close to the side and/or rear property lines). If the building does not meet the setbacks required for new ADUs, the building’s footprint cannot be enlarged, its height cannot be changed, and no new windows can be put in the side nearest the property line.
The Town and County rules regarding a new building constructed for a detached ADU include the following:
Proposed Changes to Town Rules Governing Detached ADUs
The proposed rules follow the position taken by the Town during the ZTA 19-01 process. Briefly, the proposed rules would require that an accessory building used for an ADU meet the Town’s side and rear setback requirements for a house, with some additional setback requirements for buildings exceeding specified lengths and heights. The Town is not proposing to adopt any additional rules about attached ADUs or about parking for attached or detached ADUs.
The Town’s position on setbacks for detached ADUs does not prevent someone from having an ADU. A resident interested in developing a non-conforming detached ADU could seek a variance, and, in any event, could build an attached ADU.
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