Northfielders looking to build anything from an apartment above a garage to a tiny home on their property now have more relaxed rules to work with.
The Northfield City Council on Tuesday approved the more relaxed ADU rules on a 5-2 vote. Councilors Brad Ness and David DeLong were the no votes.
Accessory dwellings are self-contained living units on the same property as an existing home — attached or detached. ADUs can include apartments above garages, basement apartments, structures attached to a home and freestanding structures like tiny homes.
In Northfield, the dwellings have been attached, but only as part of detached garages. City ordinances have stated that the structure, garage included, can be no larger than 864 square feet. This has made it almost impossible for residents to add anything but carriage houses above the garage.
By enacting the changes, including allowing the accessory structures anywhere on property where it meets setback requirements, the city hopes to expand housing options, increase density, support affordable, multi-generational and senior-friendly housing, increase efficiency of space and infrastructure as well as homeowner income.
In voting no, DeLong said he was “very uncomfortable,” with some parts of the plan to relax the rules, adding he did not see how people who could become dissatisfied with ADUs approved under relaxed standards can appeal. He was unsure whether staff could make “judgment calls” on whether such requests should be granted.
DeLong said although he understands the desire to reduce the size of structures due to reductions in household members and because of the need for affordable housing in Northfield, he did not believe this was the proper approach.
“I think it’s wishful thinking,” he said.
“It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg.”
DeLong asked what the process would consist of for people interested in building an ADU on a site and whether there would be fees because of the work of the city planner.
Northfield Community Development Director Mitzi Baker replied that after the request is brought to the planner, whether the ADU would be able to be built would be determined based on whether it would fit within property boundaries.
Baker said the city has received inquiries from residents on building an ADU after the standards have relaxed but has not received any applications.
The changes are not expected to affect other parts of the city’s land development code.
Ness said he has fielded questions on whether ADUs would be affordable.
“I’m not so sure that this is addressing the affordable housing issue,” he said.
Ness asked, since parking will not be required specifically for an ADU, whether vehicles for such structures would be able to park on the street without a winter parking permit.
City Attorney Chris Hood replied that winter parking rules would still apply to people parking for ADUs.
Councilor Suzie Nakasian said although she echoed concerns with the plan, she likes the flexibility and supports relaxing the rules for property owners. She said the plan could lead to less-expensive housing.
“I’m glad that this will at least open the door,” she said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Northfield Mayor Rhonda Pownell said she appreciated city staff for reaching out to the broader community during the process. Although she acknowledged not everyone was pleased with the aspects of the plan, she sees it as providing additional options for the community, for young people struggling to find a place to live.
Pownell said if residents have concern over an in-place accessory dwelling unit, city officials are accessible around the community.
Councilor Jessica Peterson White noted the council has discussed the issue for months, adding she is “grateful” for residents who have given feedback and for city staff for their continued work in the process.
Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115.
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