On Monday, October 2, 2017, the Planning and Zoning Commission will hear a request from the Anchorage Assembly amending the Municipal Code for Accessory Dwelling units. It is one of the many attempts by the MOA to help fix Anchorage’s affordable housing crisis by adding new housing units as the number of new housing has remained at historic lows for the past few years, with 2017 being no exception. According to the case description, the recommended modifications to the Title 21 chapters pertaining to ADU’s are ‘intended to expand the supply of residential rental units, make homeownership easier to attain and sustain, and encourage the development of this type of alternative housing. This change will allow more efficient use of residential property, development that is compatible with existing neighborhoods and more affordable housing alternatives.’ One positive change is the ability to have an ADU in the R1 (single family zone) as long as it is within or attached to the primary dwelling. Home builders have struggled with the ‘mother-in-law’ request from new home buyers for the past ten years. This clears up the in and out installation for stoves and other appliances in family rooms.

One ADU detached from a single family dwelling is also permitted on a lot, tract or parcel that is 10,000 square feet or greater and the detached single family dwelling is the only principal structure. An ADU is also allowed if the lot, tract, or parcel abuts an alley and the ADU is above a detached garage. This provision will make legal the many ADUs already existing in the alleys of South Addition and add to the number of housing units downtown. What will be most interesting to observe, however, is how the community will respond to the ability for a homeowner to now add an ADU on a 10,000 single family lot. I can think of many single family subdivisions in Anchorage and Eagle River where within the subdivision lot sizes vary from 6,000 square feet (the minimum for an R1 lot) to over 10,000 square feet which in particular occurs at the end of cul-de-sacs. Unless the covenants, codes and restrictions for the subdivision particularly restrict ADU’s, it is my assumption that an ADU would be permitted. The only way for the homeowners to prevent ADU’s would be to amend their covenants, codes and restrictions, many of which are decades old. Without an active homeowners association that will be virtually impossible to do. New home communities, of which there are very few being developed, will have to specifically address the right to allow or not allow ADUs on any lot created greater than 10,000 square feet.       

These are all positive and less restrictive changes from the current ADU requirements and I applaud the MOA, planning department and others who have participated in many meetings to get us to this point. However, here’s the catch. Any landowner operating or seeking to establish an ADU must obtain a building or land use permit. The landowner must also submit an affidavit on a form provided by the MOA, affirming that at least one landowner will occupy the principal dwelling or the accessory unit. The permit and affidavit shall be filed as a deed restriction with the Anchorage recording district to indicate the presence of the ADU and the requirement of owner-occupancy for at least six months out of the year. So my questions are who is going to enforce the owner -occupancy requirement? The zoning enforcement department primarily responds to complaints relating to health and safety. How will the properties with ADUs be financed?  As single family residences or owner-occupied duplexes? And, finally, the recorded deed restriction will be difficult to amend or remove should the current landowner or future buyer decide he/she would like to spend eight months in Arizona rather than six or take a year long assignment overseas.