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Salt Lake City to hold hearing on mother-in-law apartments

Published April 2, 2012 6:07 pm

Housing • Some residents oppose density boost.
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Salt Lake City residents who want to score some extra income by adding a "mother-in-law" apartment to their homes — and others who want to stop their neighbors from doing so — have an opportunity to speak out Tuesday.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on allowing so-called accessory dwelling units in single-family residential areas.

Mayor Ralph Becker has touted the proposed ordinance as a green way to use the city's housing stock more efficiently and shrink carbon footprints. Such units, which are currently illegal in areas zoned for single-family houses unless granted a waiver, also allow homeowners to offer an affordable — or free — housing option to an aging parent, relative or college student.

Homes with accessory units would have to be owner-occupied. The additional unit would need its own bedroom, bathroom and kitchen and would have to meet certain design and setback requirements.

Critics worry such dwellings could lead to congestion, crime, parking problems and plunging property values.

"We feel like we're plenty dense enough," said DeWitt Smith, chairman of the Liberty Wells Community Council. He opposes allowing property owners to add new units to their homes, but supports a companion proposal that would provide a way for existing, illegal units to become legal. With most homes on 5,000-square-foot lots in Liberty Wells, Smith said, there's not enough on-street parking for more units. And he is concerned about traffic.

City Council Chairman Soren Simonsen said he doesn't expect a rush of people seeking to add a rental unit to their homes. In fact, the ordinance as drafted would limit new units to 25 per year. He backs both proposed ordinances and expects the council to vote on the measures later this month.

"This is an appropriate way to address what I think is a long-standing need in the city," Simonsen said. "[Accessory units already] exist all over the city because there's a demand for them."

A mother-in-law unit allowed Westminster College students Rebecca and Mitchel Hansen to stay in their Sugar House neighborhood after rent in their former apartment complex climbed to $800 a month two years ago. The Hansens now rent the basement apartment in the home of a retired couple, whom they met in their Mormon ward. Their new apartment is bigger — two bedrooms, not one — and rent is $200 less.

"Sugar House is such an expensive place to live," Rebecca Hansen said. "I think so long as both [the landlord and tenant] are wise [to rental agreements], I don't see why it shouldn't be allowed."

City Councilman Stan Penfold said the proposal has been unpopular in his Avenues neighborhood, where residents have fought for years against illegal conversions of homes into multi-family apartments. He opposes allowing new accessory units and fears that such homes could become duplexes if homeowners move out.

On Tuesday, the council plans to discuss possible modifications to the proposal, including limiting accessory units per block or to a half-mile radius from transit stations.

rwinters@sltib.com —

What's next

On Tuesday, the Salt Lake City Council plans to discuss accessory dwelling units during a 2 p.m. work session and hold a public hearing during its 7 p.m. meeting at City Hall, 451 S. State St.




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