Lot-size limit put on local, spare apartments

Concerns about overcrowding sway majority

In its ongoing debate about how to permit accessory dwellings such as alley cottages, the Durango City Council informally decided during a study session Tuesday by a 3-2 margin to require minimum lot size of 5,000 square feet for the historic neighborhood near downtown.

A draft of a new land-use development code previously did not impose any lot-size requirement for this neighborhood. Councilors Doug Lyon, Sweetie Marbury and Dick White were worried that lack of a minimum standard would lead to overcrowding.

When drafting new rules, White thought it was more prudent to be less permissive in the beginning, or to slightly open the “barn door” rather than swing it wide open and let all the cows out at once.

As a sign of how vexing the issue is, White said he reserves the right to change his mind when the land-use code comes for a formal vote during regular council meetings, possibly in March and April. The council’s goal is to adopt the code by April 16 before as many as three new councilors are sworn into office.

White said accessory dwellings appeal to him for purposes of sustainability, acknowledging that more people will want to live near downtown, so they can walk to work and shop on foot because of rising fuel prices.

Councilor Christina Rinderle argued that accessory dwellings are necessary to alleviate the affordable-housing shortage, noting that the median price here is about $350,000, but the average income is $50,000.

Rinderle and Councilor Paul Broderick argued against a minimum lot size standard, saying other requirements for parking and lot coverage would effectively limit them anyway. Architects should at least be given a chance to come up with creative solutions within the guidelines.

As a proponent of accessory dwellings, Rinderle expressed frustration at the many restrictions and compromises on the issue. Accessory dwellings will be permitted only in one other neighborhood, the residential avenues that parallel North Main Avenue, where lot size must be at least 7,000 square feet before an accessory dwelling could be permitted.

In other land-use news, the new code would not allow residential businesses, or purely commercial enterprises in a residential neighborhood.

Day cares, churches and group homes would still be excluded from these restrictions. People can still get a home occupational license to run businesses out of their homes as long as they lived there and limited the number of nonfamily employees.

Homes, however, cannot be used for commercial purposes if no one slept there or lived there full time.

The city would no longer permit businesses such as Swan Wealth Advisors, which recently got a conditional-use permit to operate a commercial office in a residential zone on south Third Avenue.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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