OWATONNA — Throughout the month of June, the Owatonna Community Development Department received three separate inquiries regarding the possibility of constructing a house with an accessory unit within a single family zoning district. According to Greg Kruschke, the community development specialist, these inquiries were specifically to accommodate multi-generational housing.

“The requests are so a family member could live [in the accessory unit] and have a separate living space within the house,” Kruschke explained to the Owatonna City Council during a work study session on July 2.

Having multi-generational families living together may seem like a new trend, but the living arrangement has a long history in America. According to Pew data, the multi-generational living model first took a nosedive after World War II. The number of people living in this type of situation dropped to 21% in 1950 from 25% a decade earlier. This trend continued until 1980, when the share of the population living in multi-generational homes bottomed out at 12%. A number of factors likely led to this shift, including a rise in both health and wealth for people who were 65 and older.

Since the lowest dip in 1980, though, multi-generational living has been slowly on the rise, and the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009 helped. By 2009, 51.5 million — or 17% — of Americans lived in multi-generational households again, and the number has continued to go up since.

“I’m amazed that it’s taken this long to get to this point, to be honest,” said council member Greg Schultz. “This is going to become normal, I think, in a lot of situations.”

For it to become normal in Owatonna, however, the council would have to amend the zoning ordinance for R-1, single family residential districts.

“The planning commission did have a lengthy discussion in June on this item with a lot of good discussion back and forth,” Kruschke said. “They are in favor of it with proper controls and regulations in place.”

Kruschke added that the planning commissioners are in favor of the concept of allowing accessory units for multi-generational housing as a modern a solution to affordable housing and addressing the community’s aging population. During the study session, though, concerns were brought up about the accessory units being turned into rental units, essentially creating a duplex in a single family zoning district.

“Nobody disagrees with the initial intent,” said Troy Klecker, the community development director. “Once that situation isn’t there anymore, what happens to that house? How is it utilized? What sort of ideas do people have to use that space? A very natural one is that there are two units there, close a door off and rent out one, creating a duplex.”

To help prevent the units being rented out, Kruschke said that the planning commission put together a list of requirements for any potential construction of homes with accessory units. The requirements include the unit being attached or internal with a maximum of 30%-40% of the primary dwelling excluding the garage, both units using the same utility services and mailbox, and one primary entrance on the front elevation.

Other requirements included putting a maximum limit on the occupants residing in the accessory unit, but some council members were not in favor of that type of regulation.

“I struggle with that,” said council member Kevin Raney, who discussed a personal family dynamic regarding an adult with special needs. “If it were to come to fruition for me, I would have three adults.”

In the end, the council agreed that the city should not regulate who lives in the accessory unit. Another regulation agreed upon was to only allow attached units, as the planning commission and the council said a detached unit does not match the intent of a single family zoning district.

Council member Dave Burbank added that he does not believe allowing these units to be constructed will make much if any impact on area senior living facilities, noting that the “silver tsunami” is coming.

“I think the time has come for this,” said Raney. “With the generation now and the future ones, we’re seeing more and more of them wanting to keep their parents at home rather than an assisted living facility.”

Kruschke informed the council at the end of the study session that the planning commission will continue to refine the requirements and work on an ordinance that will allow the accessory dwelling units in a single family zoning district for a future council meeting.

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 444-2378 or Follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie.

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