Accessory dwellings now allowed in Polk’s MU zoning district

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Polk County residents living in the Multiple Use (MU) zoning district can now have another dwelling on their property as long as they own one or more acres of land.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met April 20 and approved an amendment to the county’s zoning ordinance to allow accessory dwellings.

Commissioners approved the amendment following a public hearing, where only two residents spoke.

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Residents in Hunting Country spoke out to officials prior to the public hearing requesting the amendment not be allowed in RE5, which is five-acre minimum zoning.

Polk County Planner Cathy Ruth said the planning board was asked by commissioners to look at ½ acre parcels that have public water and sewer. Ruth said the planning board made a different recommendation, suggesting the county allow a second parcel on land with a minimum of one acre. Ruth also said the Hunting Country Homeowners Association has requested it be removed from the amendment.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said since the county has heard so much from RE5 residents, that zoning district should be removed. He also confirmed that Polk’s zoning already allows a house and a guest house on at least one acre. Gasperson said the way the amendment is currently written that will mean someone could have a house, a guest house and an accessory house.

“That’s a real stretch to put that much on one acre,” said Gasperson.

Gasperson suggested if the parcel does not have public water and sewer the county should increase the minimum acreage.

Ruth said some zoning districts are below the threshold of having a guest house.

Commissioner Keith Holbert asked if someone is an area that allows accessory housing, could they enlarge their septic system to have both dwellings.

The answer was that they could enlarge their septic system, but that would be a health department decision.

Commissioner Michael Gage motion to authorize accessory dwellings in the MU areas only. Gage first suggested allowing accessory dwellings in an attempt to expand affordable housing in Polk County.

Commissioners first directed the planning board to consider an amendment to allow accessory dwellings in February. The idea was is a resident wanted their mom or child to live on the same parcel of land, allowing an accessory dwelling would make that possible.

Prior to approving the amendment, Polk’s current definitions stated that a parcel can have a guesthouse but not for permanent living. An apartment is also allowed in some districts, but cannot be more than 750 square feet.

Commissioners approved the amendment unanimously as well as a definition for accessory dwelling units. An accessory dwelling unit is defined as a residential dwelling unit, including a mobile home (if permitted in the 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 said if residents in other zoning districts besides MU want to allow accessory dwelling units, the county will consider adding those districts to the zoning ordinance.