City staff balks at new coach house limits

A coach house in the 1700 block of Asbury Avenue

A city staff memo to be discussed at tonight's City Council meeting suggests aldermen should take a closer look at the potential consequences before adopting new occupancy restrictions on coach houses and other accessory dwelling units.

At the request of Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, the city's Planning and Development Committee Dec. 10 directed staff to draft an ordinance that would require that in single family neighborhoods the owner of a property would have to live in either the main house on a property or its accessory dwelling unit.

The city does not impose similar restrictions on single family homes that don't have an ADU -- owners are free to rent them out.

It was only last year that the city repealed a long-standing regulation that barred property owners from renting coach houses to non-family members.

A guide to accessory dwelling units prepared by the AARP and hte Americna Planning Association in 2000 suggests that "a popular way" to allay fears that ADUs will lead to neighborhood decline as a result of poor maintenance if both units are rented out is to enact an owner-occupancy rule.

But the staff memo says more recent research has shown that those fears are generally unfounded, and that typically more than 70 percent of properties with ADUs end up being owner occupied.

ADU advocates say the occupancy restrictions make it more difficult to finance construction of ADUs.

The staff memo also says the city would likely face difficulty in trying to enforce owner-occupancy rules and in defining just who counts as an owner-occupant.

It also predicts that the restriction would encourage more property owners to avoid registering their rental units -- which would mean the properties would escape the city's inspection process for life safety violations.

The memo also suggests using the city's existing nuisance property ordinance to address problem rental properties.

Portland, Oregon, which has welcomed accessory dwelling units in recent years has seen an average of 624 ADU permits issued in each of the past two years.

Portland has a population of almost 650,000 people. Scaling that down to Evanston's population of 75,000, one might forecast that welcoming ADUs here would lead to So if one assumed welcoming ADUs in Evanston would lead to issuance of about 72 ADU permits here a year -- or about a quarter of one percent of the city's housing stock.

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