Jeff Dupont’s rental unit above his garage helped make it possible for him to move his family into historic Durango. Previous to that, he was living in a subdivision outside the city, where median home prices are lower.
Dupont, a Fort Lewis College employee, bought his lot on East Fifth Avenue two years ago and built both a new home for his family and an apartment above the garage. Apartments similar to Dupont’s unit, but typically smaller, are often called accessory-dwelling units, or ADUs, in Durango.
“We couldn’t have done it without the ADU, at least not comfortably,” he said.
He opted to sacrifice some square footage in his family’s new home to make the apartment large enough to be marketable.
The 650-square-foot unit is technically classified as a duplex, which allows him to rent both the home and apartment if he chose, he said.
Dupont said he supports the rights of other homeowners to build apartments on their property because the rental income can help more middle-class families live in town, he said.
Some residents share his support for apartments in single-family neighborhoods because they provide rental income for the owner and additional housing stock. But others worry dense housing will lead to a crunch for parking, a change in the character of neighborhoods and undue pressure on infrastructure.
The city started allowing ADUs in some neighborhoods during 2014. Officials tried to address residents’ concerns with regulations to keep the new units from overwhelming neighborhoods, said Scott Shine, the city’s planning manager.
Dense housing and increasing affordable housing options for residents are two of the goals identified in the city of Durango’s long-term housing plan.
The plan, adopted in January, identifies ADUs as one way to achieve the housing goals.
Durango is a mountain town with limited room to grow. Density makes sense, therefore, to maximize the available space and group new development with existing development, Durango City Councilor Chris Bettin said.
The small units can also relieve some homeowners’ financial stress, give children the option of living close to their aging parents and provide more rental housing, he said.
“It satisfies a need in our community that is pretty strong,” Bettin said.
Fears residents expressed a few years ago about ADUs bringing problems with noise, trash and parking to neighborhoods have not come to pass, and residents haven’t rushed to build many units, he said.
The city started legalizing apartments in historic Durango neighborhoods, including the area east of downtown and Animas City, four years ago. Since then, city officials have registered about 265 existing units, and “it is almost certain that substantially more than 300 lots in Durango have ADUs,” according to the city’s housing plan.
Since adopting new rules, city officials have permitted about two dozen new ADUs, Shine said. The city charges about $7,200 in fees to build a unit.
As part of implementing the housing plan, the city is working on legalizing ADUs in more areas of town and legalizing single-family homes that were remodeled into multiplexes in historic neighborhoods.
Durango City Council has given initial approval to ADUs in Riverview, the Needham Elementary School area, Ella Vita Court on the west side of town and the area east of the Riverview Sports Complex, among other areas. The council must vote on the issue two more times.
Alma Evans lives in the historic neighborhood north of east College Drive, one of the three areas where the city of Durango legalized apartments. She said she is aware of six new ADUs in her area.
The new ADUs tend to be part of two-story structures built on alleys and take away from the openness in the neighborhood, she said.
“The feeling is still very strong that nobody really wants one on the back of their neighbor’s lot,” she said.
ADUs are restricted to lots of a certain size in her neighborhood, and homeowners must live on the properties. But Evans said she would like to see a cap placed on the total number of ADUs that can be built in her neighborhood to limit them further.
“I think that would be something that would protect the neighborhoods from being overbuilt,” she said. It is a measure that could protect old and “fragile” infrastructure, she said.
Eric Thompson is interested in putting in a detached ADU at his Riverview home, but he is concerned proposed regulations preventing detached units will prevent units from being built. He is concerned an attached unit wouldn’t provide enough privacy for homeowners and renters.
“There seems to be a lot of handcuffing here,” he said at a recent city meeting.
City Council is expected to tweak rules for ADUs for certain neighborhoods in January and will likely continue to adjust rules because crafting regulations is an iterative process, Shine said. However, city officials have not seen a need to cap the number of units allowed in neighborhoods, he said.
“ADUs we feel like, if they meet all the standards, are a good fit,” he said.