Planning Commission votes to recommend allowing two houses per lot, but with some restrictions

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.

Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners have voted in favor of a proposal that would allow two houses to be built on one lot if both homes are affordable, but they’re recommending the city limit where and under what requirements the so-called density bonus would be allowed.

At its meeting Wednesday, the Planning Commission voted 7-2 to recommend the proposal, which would be the city’s first land use rule to be directly connected to the affordability of homes. The changes, which were originally proposed by the nonprofit organization Tenants to Homeowners, would allow two homes to be built on one lot as long as both are permanently designated as affordable housing.

The density bonus would allow a second home to be added alongside an existing home or two new homes to be built on a single lot. The homes could be owned separately and would follow the existing residency limit of three unrelated people. The density bonus differs from an accessory dwelling unit, which has lower occupancy limits and cannot be owned separately. To help maintain the look of existing neighborhoods, city staff is recommending that the homes meet all existing dimensional standards and setback requirements.

The Planning Commission, Affordable Housing Advisory Board and city planning staff have discussed the details of how the density bonus would be applied over the past several months. Questions being considered include whether the density bonus should be allowed in all zoning districts, including on the smaller lots generally located in eastern Lawrence, and whether it would be a right or require a permit in some or all districts.

Planning Commissioner David Carttar expressed concern that if a special use permit were required for all zoning districts, it would mean that all of those requests would have to come before the commission. Carttar said he thought that would take up a lot of time if many residents take advantage of the density bonus.

“We are going to spend a lot of time entertaining request after request,” Carttar said.

A point of contention with some neighborhoods has been whether the density bonus should be allowed in neighborhoods that generally have smaller lot sizes, including lot sizes of approximately 5,000 square feet. Brook Creek Neighborhood Association Vice President Michael Almon told the commission he was worried that such affordable housing projects would be concentrated in neighborhoods such as Brook Creek, where lots are smaller and cheaper, and where many of the city’s affordable housing projects are already located.

In response to questions from the commission, Tenants to Homeowners Executive Director Rebecca Buford said the organization currently owns five lots and would like to use the density bonus on two or three of those lots. Buford said that her organization would like to be able to use the density bonus in all zoning districts. Regarding some of the concerns voiced by neighbors, she said that the homes that Tenants to Homeowners provides are not low-quality housing. She said the homes are all new construction and that they are owner-occupied and properly cared for.

City staff is recommending that the density bonus only be allowed in zoning districts where the lots are more than 7,000 square feet, or in the RS7, RS10, and RS20 districts. The recommendation would exclude the RS5 zoning district, where lots are at least 5,000 square feet, which is generally located east of Iowa Street and present in neighborhoods such as East Lawrence and Brook Creek. Staff is also recommending that the density bonus require a special use permit as opposed to being permitted by right.

On Wednesday, commissioners said that they were interested in requiring a special use permit — and the approval process that entails — for the RS5 zoning district and allowing the density bonus by right in zoning districts with larger lot sizes. The idea there would be to encourage affordable housing projects in additional neighborhoods in order to comply with the city’s goal of spreading out affordable housing through the city.

Ultimately, the commission voted 7-2 in favor of a proposal with those changes in place. Commissioners Carttar and Jim Carpenter voted against the proposal because they said they also wanted to consider requiring the special use permit process for RS7 lots.

The planning commission’s comments will be sent to the city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board for consideration. The Lawrence City Commission is scheduled to consider the proposed density bonus on Oct. 1.

Related stories

April 14 — Some residents voice concerns as affordable housing board considers density increases

March 11 — A really close neighbor: Affordable housing board interested in allowing two homes to be built on single city lot

Oct. 16, 2018 — City planners to begin drafting code changes for affordable housing, including smaller homes

March 19, 2018 — Affordable housing project seeks to add small homes to existing neighborhoods; that won’t be easy


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