A really close neighbor: Affordable housing board interested in allowing two homes to be built on single city lot

photo by: Courtesy of Tenants to Homeowners Inc.

Members of the city’s affordable housing board want to allow two smaller homes to be built on one normal lot as long as at least one is designated as an affordable home or rental.

Members of the city’s affordable housing board want to allow two homes to be built on one lot as long as at least one is designated as an affordable home or rental.

As part of its meeting Monday, the Affordable Housing Advisory Board reviewed a preliminary draft of changes to the city’s land use code that would allow two homes to be built on a single lot under certain conditions. One of the homes would have to be permanently designated as affordable housing and both homes would need to meet existing design standards for residential neighborhoods.

Planning Director Scott McCullough explained that keeping the design requirements in place is important for emergency access and would help preserve the character and look of neighborhoods. He said each unit would also have to meet existing off-street parking requirements.

“That goes to the neighborhood pattern issue and the scale of neighborhoods,” McCullough said. “We didn’t want to necessarily open up a more intense lot.”

Specifically, City Planner Sandra Day told the board that the proposed changes would remove an existing code requirement that houses be built on their own lots, opening up the possibility to essentially divide a vacant residential lot into two properties or to build a second house alongside an existing one. The board is contemplating changes that would allow for two homes on lots as small as 5,000 square feet.

Day said the front of the houses would still need to meet existing setback requirements from the street and that both houses’ front doors must face the street. She said that would allow for two thin lots side-by-side or staggering homes so they were both visible from the street.

In response to questions from the board, Day explained that the ability to build a second dwelling unit would be different from accessory dwelling units that are currently allowed in some neighborhoods. She said that while accessory dwelling units must be smaller than the primary home and only allow for one additional person to reside on the lot, that the current proposal allows for each house to have separate ownership and occupancy limits.

photo by: Courtesy of Tenants to Homeowners Inc.

RIGHT: Renderings of long houses that could be built on a single city lot if proposal to change the city’s land use code is ultimately passed by the City Commission.
BOTTOM: Schematics for long houses.
LEFT: Renderings of compact housing.
TOP: Schematics for compact housing.

Monday’s meeting was another step in a conversation that began in 2018. A “small homes” proposal was initiated by the nonprofit Lawrence Community Housing Trust last year, and was subsequently recommended for advancement by the board. In October, the Lawrence City Commission directed planners to begin drafting changes to city code to allow for more affordable housing options, including dividing existing residential lots to build smaller homes.

McCullough said if the ability to have two houses on one lot is connected to affordability, then the city would also need the code to define what is affordable and whether that affordability must be permanent or only initial. He said the next step would be determining how the city would enforce those requirements.

“Then we have to talk about what is the practice of that and how do we actually implement affordability, moving into building permits and land use and that kind of thing,” McCullough said. “That’s where it gets pretty complicated pretty quick.”

The board generally agreed that they wanted the ability to build two homes on one lot tied to affordable housing requirements and for those requirements to be permanent. AHAB Board Chair Ron Gaches said requiring that both houses on a lot be designated as affordable could discourage a second affordable home from being built when one already exists and the board ultimately agreed that only one should have to be permanently affordable. Regarding what qualifies as affordable, the board discussed using the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development fair market rent requirements and 80 percent of median family income.

Following the direction from the board, city planners will now begin refining the draft code changes. McCullough said the proposed changes would be brought to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission for initial comments, back to the board for review, and then back to the Planning Commission for consideration. The last step would be for the City Commission to consider the changes.

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