Polk considers accessory dwelling units for affordable housing opportunities

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Polk County Commissioners are considering an amendment to its zoning ordinance to allow accessory dwellings on the same property in some zoning districts to promote affordable housing.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Feb. 23 and set a public hearing for April 6 at 7 p.m. to consider amendments.

Commissioners said they want to hear from the public in order to decide which districts want the provision.

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Polk County Planner Cathy Ruth reported on the county planning board’s latest meeting where it recommended an amendment. Ruth said the recommendation stemmed from commissioners requesting the planning board address affordable housing in the multiple use zoning district and to report back to commissioners by February.

Ruth said the planning board’s idea with the recommendation is to allow an assessory dwelling on a parcel. If someone has a two-acre parcel and their mother wanted to live there, for example, another dwelling would be allowed if commissioners approve the amendment.

The county’s current definitions state that a parcel can have a guesthouse but not for permanent living. An apartment is allowed in some districts, but cannot be more than 750 square feet.

Commissioner Michael Gage has mentioned his wish to have more affordable housing in the county during a few meetings.

Commissioner Tom Pack said currently the recommendation to allow accessory dwellings is in all districts and commissioners could pick and choose which districts would allow it or not following a public hearing.

Ruth said the planning department has already heard from a couple of people who are concerned about the provision in their districts.

Gage also said he’s talked to some residents who are concerned for their districts. Gage said he would like to hear from them.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson also said he’s heard from some concerned residents too, in Hunting Country in particular.

“If these folks are not interested in this I don’t have a problem with them not being included,” said Gasperson. “I see this as perhaps a very good thing in multiple use.”

Pack said commissioners need to make sure they know Hunting Country is not in favor and that’s fine. Hunting County is a district with a five-acre minimum lot size. Pack also said commissioners need to see if residents in the AR5 (Agricultural Residential with a five-acre minimum) and other districts want to be included.

“We’re not going to force anybody,” Pack said. “We don’t want to force it on anybody.”

Gasperson thanked Gage for bringing the issue up and said he thinks it’s a good thing.

Gage said in meetings he is concerned about the availability of affordable housing in Polk County, especially as local development increases. Gage’s motion asked the planning board to investigate the possibility of reducing the lot size requirement in the multiple use zoning district to ½ acre parcels with public water and/or sewer for two lot and family subdivisions only and to have the recommendation brought back to commissioners by February or sooner. Gage’s motion carried unanimously.

The planning board’s recommended resolution states that the Polk County 20/20 Vision Plan says housing conditions and affordability are a significant concern for the county and continuing in-migration may lead to higher land values and affordable housing will continue to be a challenge for many Polk residents, especially younger people.

The draft resolution says the ordinance shall be known as the accessory dwelling unit zoning amendment ordinance with changes to the permitted use table including allowing accessory dwelling units in the E, RE1, RE2, RE5, AR, R, MR, NC, HC, I, MU, FF and AR5 zoning districts.

An accessory dwelling unit is defined as a residential dwelling unit, including a mobile home (if permitted in zoning district), located on the same lot as a single-family dwelling unit, either within the same building as the single-family dwelling unit or in a detached building. The parcel must be a minimum of one acre in size or the minimum required lot size of zoning district, whichever is greater.

Commissioners are encouraging residents to attend the public hearing in order to decide which zoning districts within the county will include the permitted use of an accessory dwelling.

The county’s April 6 meeting and public hearing will be on the second floor of the Womack building in downtown Columbus.