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Annapolis City Council to consider bill to legalize and regulate accessory dwelling units

The Annapolis City Council approved the introduction of two bills Monday night meant to expand residential housing options in the city, including a new version of a previously-withdrawn ordinance that would allow accessory dwelling units in some city zoning districts.

Aldermen Brooks Schandelmeier, D-Ward 5, and DaJuan Gay, D-Ward 6, are the cosponsors of O-9-21, a bill that would legalize and regulate homes that go by many names such as secondary suites, accessory apartments and “granny” flats. The units would be allowed as accessory use in all zones that allow single-family homes. Some common uses include a converted garage or basement apartment.

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The bill was approved by a vote of 8-1 with no discussion. Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell Charles, D-Ward 5, was the lone no vote. It will now be referred to the Rules and City Government, Economic Matters and Housing and Human Welfare committees and the Planning Commission for further deliberation.

Under the new ordinance, a maximum of one accessory unit could be established per lot either within an existing primary structure or in a separate accessory structure. Each unit would be a maximum of 850 square feet of livable space and a separate entrance. One off-street parking space would be required per unit.

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The bill provides no exemptions for unregistered existing accessory dwelling units. A rental license would be required for the unit, and the units would not be allowed to be operated as a short-term rental as the bill is currently written.

The Planning and Zoning Director would be required to present a report to the Planning Commission at least once a year on the number and location of accessory dwelling units operating within the city, according to the bill.

When Schandelmeier first moved to Annapolis, he lived in an off-the-books accessory dwelling unit, he said. Living there gave him a chance to establish himself in a city with a dearth of moderately priced housing.

“These are a legitimate form of affordable housing, and people who move into them become part of our community,” he said.

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Twelve months ago, Gay had championed a similar bill, but after significant wrangling on the council and an unfavorable report by the Planning Commission, the bill was withdrawn.

Schandelmeier and Gay hope this version of the bill is simpler and can be seen as a tool to expand housing access. It has support among several councilmembers, which gives it a good chance at passage, Gay said.

”We’ve simplified it and made our intentions clear from the beginning,” Gay said. “We’re making the conversation around the actual idea of affordable housing and not zoning.”

There are numerous existing accessory dwelling units already operating in Annapolis — like the unit that Schandelmeier rented — there just isn’t an official policy regulating them, said Alex Pline, a member of the Annapolis Planning Commission.

Besides offering lower prices to renters, a less-discussed benefit is the additional income homeowners would get to help them afford a single-family home, adding economic resilience, Pline said.

On March 30, Pline will appear at a town hall about accessory dwelling units and the impact they have on society with an expert on the subject, Kol Peterson, the owner of Accessory Dwelling Strategies, LLC, a company based in Portland, Oregon, dedicated to education, advocacy and consulting. A second session is set for April 30 to discuss how such homes would work in Annapolis. The event is being hosted by Action Annapolis, the Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and Strong Towns Annapolis.

More information can be found at facebook.com/actionannapolis.

Accessory dwelling units are not a “silver bullet” solution to an affordable housing crisis but rather a “silver spray” to help increase housing inventory in a city, said Peterson, who is the author of “Back Door Revolution: The Definitive Guide to ADU Development.”

Through his work, Peterson has sought to dispel some of the claims made against accessory dwelling units. For instance, some critics say they alter a community’s character, create slums and generate traffic gridlock, all of which are untrue, Peterson said.

In reality, accessory dwelling units are a “grassroots, libertarian approach” where homeowners, and not a company, are able to directly contribute to a city’s affordable housing stock, he said.

But it takes time.

“The truth is you won’t see ... an immediate impact overnight,” he said. “It’s an incremental thing. It takes a long time. And even in Portland where we have ADUs thriving in a really robust way for over a decade, they only represent 2% of the overall housing stock.”

The other housing ordinance, O-8-21, would allow residences above the ground floor of non-residential properties in the Professional Mixed Office, or PM, district. The PM District is located in Wards 2 and 3, including along Old Solomon’s Island Road, Forbes Street, West Street between Westgate Circle and McKendree Avenue, and West Street and Legion Avenue.

The bill’s sponsor Alderman Fred Paone, R-Ward 2, said it’s “ridiculous” property owners can’t currently live or rent out spaces above businesses in those districts.

“We want to do something about it,” said Paone, who also sees it as a potential boon for businesses to have residents living close by who can shop at any time of day.

The bill was approved unanimously and has been referred to the Rules and City Government Committee and the Planning Commission.

Elsewhere, the council approved a bill establishing requirements for small cell systems, which will enable 5G connectivity in the city. Accompanying resolutions establishing fees and fines also passed.

The body also approved a resolution to permit the city’s Transportation Department to file an application with the Maryland Transit Administration for grants totally nearly $3.9 million, or 40% of the department’s budget.

Other business

During his twice-monthly update, Mayor Gavin Buckley announced the Pip Moyer Recreation Center will open as a coronavirus vaccination site next month. The city has been holding periodic pop-up clinics at churches and housing communities over the last several weeks.

Buckley also announced that his advisor William Rowel will be on a leave of absence for the rest of the year to deal with health issues. The council also held a moment of silence for a city employee in the information technology department, Patrick McAllister, who died suddenly last week.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the City Council recognized three women of the cloth for their contributions to the Annapolis community, including The Reverend Carletta Allen, The Reverand Patricia Johnson and The Reverend Sheryl Menendez.

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