Michael Zarlingo is one of 23 Durangoans who have sought a permit to build an accessory dwelling unit since the option became available in 2014.
“Everything is so expensive in Durango, and we want to maximize the value of the property,” said Zarlingo, who lives in north Durango.
Zarlingo’s ADU, which is under construction, will be 550 square feet and be ready in July. Zarlingo expects to advertise it for $1,300 a month.
He said he paid about $9,400 in fees to the city before he could build the structure.
“They’re not cheap to build. I think the idea was to provide more affordable housing, but I don’t know if that really worked out,” he said.
For Zarlingo, he said the ability to add an ADU provides him with flexibility in addition to income. He and his wife plan to move into the ADU when their children go to college and to rent the main house on the lot.
The ability to build an accessory dwelling unit became a legal option for homeowners in newer subdivisions and in the Needham, Crestview and Riverview neighborhoods this week, as changes to the city’s land-use code went into effect.
Many homeowners in the Crestview and Hillcrest neighborhoods have covenants that allow only one housing unit per lot, and the city will not issue ADU permits where covenants limit one lot to one household.
Rules for the building of ADUs in newer subdivisions and the Needham, Crestview and Riverview areas, called Established Neighborhoods IV, V and VI by the city, include:
Detached units are not allowed.A unit cannot exceed 550 square feet, unless it is entirely contained in a basement.An owner must live in one of the two units on the lot.External stairs are not allowed.One new parking space, potentially on the street, is required for a new ADU.No vacation rentals are allowed.No variances will be allowed.Because there are no minimum lot sizes to build an ADU in the Needham, Crestview and Riverview neighborhoods, the city has said it will not allow variances to its rules to develop an accessory unit.
The city estimates expanding ADUs to those neighborhoods will add 1,800 new lots upon which an ADU can be built.
The city will register ADUs in the new areas, as it registers ADUs in the older parts of town. Registering an accessory dwelling unit costs on average $7,200 per unit.
About 60 residents attended an open house Monday hosted by the city of Durango to look at how regulations allowing ADUs in older parts of town have worked since their adoption in 2014 and to hear feedback about proposals to change the program.
One of the initial purposes for allowing ADUs was to aid in providing affordable housing.
“Allowing an additional housing unit on a lot will add supply. But we don’t say it alone will solve the problem. It is an arrow in the quiver,” said Planning Manager Scott Shine at the open house.
Alternative dwelling units, Shine said, also provide housing options for niche markets, including empty-nesters, college students, adult children, caregivers and disabled people.
Residents questioned whether the ADU program is providing affordable housing, especially given the $7,200 fee to register them with the city.
One initial fear among ADU opponents – that the program would be so popular the accessory units would pop up everywhere and change the character of neighborhoods – has not been borne out.
Shine said only 23 permits have been issued for ADU units since 2014, when the use became legal in older parts of Durango.
“There was a fear there would be a mad rush of these, but we’ve seen only a slow trickle of new units added,” Shine said.
The areas where ADUs were approved for development in 2014 were in historic neighborhoods closest to downtown Durango, along the avenues parallel to north Main Avenue and in East Animas City.
Because only 23 permits have been sought to build ADUs since 2014, the city is proposing dropping the minimum lot sizes it now requires for building accessory units in the older parts of town.
Currently, the city requires a lot size of 5,000 square feet or greater for lots north of College Drive. There is no minimum lot size to build an ADU south of College Drive.
On the avenues parallel to north Main, a minimum lot size of 7,000 square feet is required.
In East Animas City, a minimum lot size of 7,500 square feet is required.