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Residents discuss mother-in-law apartments in Salt Lake City

Published April 4, 2012 7:59 am
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As a 64-year-old widower, Craig Peterson thinks he could benefit from a proposal to legalize mother-in-law apartments in Salt Lake City. He has a home large enough to accommodate such a unit for a relative or caregiver.

But on Tuesday, he was one of a dozen residents who urged the Salt Lake City Council to vote against a proposed ordinance that would allow owners of single-family homes to add an accessory dwelling unit.

"I'm very nervous about this ordinance because of the concept of spot zoning, where we can go into any district in the city and basically create what is a duplex," Peterson said, noting his own neighbors would "collapse" if he added an apartment to his home.

Although mother-in-law apartments were encouraged during the World War II era and can be found in many Salt Lake City homes, city code prevents homeowners from adding new apartments. Mayor Ralph Becker wants the city to bring the dwelling units back as a way to promote sustainable living and more efficient use of the city's housing stock. The proposed ordinance would allow an accessory unit so long as the home is owner-occupied; the unit has its own bedroom, bathroom and kitchen; and the overall design conforms to neighborhood standards for setbacks and height.

Sydney Fonnesbeck, a member of the City Council during the 1980s, said the ordinance would reverse efforts in her Avenues neighborhood to restore single-family homes after problematic conversions to multifamily apartments.

"It's been said we ought to give it a try," Fonnesbeck told the council. "We gave it a try. And if you don't remember, it's because you're a lot younger than I am."

Mike Kener, who lives in Highland Park, was one of three to speak in favor of the proposal. He said he's interested in such a unit for his own home, and he supports higher neighborhood density.

City Council Chairman Soren Simonsen expects the council to make a final decision on the proposal before the end of the month.

During a work session, the council discussed whether to place limits on the proposed ordinance, such as restricting the number of units per block or starting with one or more test areas.

"Provo comes to mind," joked Councilman Stan Penfold, who opposes allowing accessory units throughout the capital.

Simonsen suggested starting with Sugar House, where he said many residents have been in favor of the plan. Simonsen also supports adopting the new rules for accessory units citywide.

"To put in so many requirements that may eliminate the possibility of these [apartments] ... simply doesn't recognize the huge need for something like this in our community," Simonsen said.

In a presentation, Robert McNulty, president and CEO of the nonprofit Partners for Livable Communities, and Scott Wright, a University of Utah gerontology professor, urged the council to think of ways the city can help older adults to stay in their homes, or at least their neighborhoods, as they age.

McNulty said that mother-in-law apartments can be used to care for an elderly parent or house a caretaker. Depending on how they are integrated into a community, he said, such units can be a "godsend" or a "problem."

rwinters@sltrib.com —

In other action

The City Council approved new boundaries for council districts. It also authorized hiring Management Partners, based in San Jose, Calif., to conduct a performance audit of the Salt Lake City Public Library system. The city sought an auditor after former library Director Beth Elder abruptly resigned in October, saying she had been a "lightning rod of controversy."




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