New Wave of Granny Units Stirs Community Debate

<p>"Do they damage the 'look and feel' of the neighborhood character, or provide a necessary housing alternative?" Welcome to the granny unit debate in today's suburbs. Zoning revisions are being written that reflect the outcome of the debate.</p>
December 5, 2006, 9am PST | Irvin Dawid
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"Hundreds of communities across the country have rewritten their zoning rules in recent years, to eliminate longtime bans on apartments in single-family houses and encourage new ones to be built."

"The revisions...have occurred largely in suburban and exurban areas where growth and efforts to control it have driven housing costs up."

"Once fairly common in large houses but prohibited by zoning ordinances after World War II, so-called accessory apartments in places like garages or attics are now seen as one way to expand the supply of moderately priced rentals. They are intended for older people on fixed incomes, young people starting out and workers needed for essential but relatively low-paying jobs."

"The reality is we desperately need the housing in most of the places where people are talking about this," said Joel Russell, a land use lawyer and planning consultant in Northampton, Mass. "This is the least intrusive way to try to provide it; and the impacts that people are afraid will happen simply don't happen in most places."

"That is not to say the apartments are not controversial. In the suburbs, some residents have argued against encouraging or even allowing them, saying they will damage their neighborhood's look and feel. Some say they worry about crowding, traffic, parking and a strain on public services, especially schools.

To answer those fears, towns have tailored their new rules. Some permit only one-bedroom apartments, screening out occupants with school-age children. Many insist that the owner live in one of the units and that there be off-street parking. Some have made the rules so restrictive, critics say, that the units have received few or no applications."

Thanks to Mark Boshnack

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Published on Saturday, December 2, 2006 in The New York Times
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