Still awaiting a hearing before the local Planning and Zoning Commission is an amendment to the Anchorage Municipal Code, Title 21, modifying Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Regulations. Originally scheduled for Oct. 2 and rescheduled for Nov. 13th, it was postponed again due to a lack of a quorum which is not an unusual occurrence during the holiday season. However, this most recent postpone provides an opportunity for further comment from concerned citizens, of which I am one.
The proposed changes to the ADU existing ordinance is well 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.’ Anchorage needs more housing units and this is, indeed, a good step forward. However, the devil is always in the details and the interpretation of the code at the permit counter. So here are some of the details that I find perplexing. The landowner must 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. That seems well-intended but who is going to enforce this requirement? Certainly, not the Zoning Enforcement Department which currently is understaffed and has more important infractions, such as health and safety, to deal with than whether or not a landowner is absent from their owner-occupied premises for more than six months.
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. Homebuilders have struggled with the ‘mother-in-law’ request from new home buyers for the past ten years. This ordinance will clear up the in and out installation for stoves and other appliances in family rooms. However, I’m not sure how the community will respond to the ability of a homeowner to now add an ADU on a 10,000 single family zoned lot. Many of our older subdivisions have lots that are 10,000 square feet or slightly more and they are highly prized for their privacy, particularly if they are on a cul-de-sac. Unless the covenants, codes and restrictions for the subdivision particularly restrict ADUs, there may be some unhappy homeowners when their next door neighbor begins construction of an ADU.
One yet to be determined factor is how mortgage lenders will view accessory dwelling units for the purposes of financing. Will rental income from the ADU be allocated to the owner’s income ratios at 75% of the gross rental income or at all? I can see this as a particular sticky issue if the ADU is detached. One other concern is the required deed recording identifying the property as having an ADU and the requirement if and when it is converted back to only a single family to make another recorded change.
I live in a neighborhood where several ADUs have popped up over the past ten years, some legal and some obviously non-conforming. I welcome additional housing units in my neighborhood and in the community as a whole. However, the ADU ordinance as proposed is overburdened with unnecessary regulation. And, as we all know, over-regulation is a contributing factor to Anchorage’s high housing costs.