Affordable Housing Advisory Board votes to recommend allowing 2 houses per lot with certain 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 lot as long as they are designated as affordable housing.

The city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board has approved a proposal that would allow two houses to be built on one lot if both homes are affordable, supporting recent changes restricting use of the so-called density bonus in some neighborhoods.

At its meeting Monday, AHAB voted unanimously, with two abstentions, to recommend the proposal, which would allow lots of a certain size to be divided in two as long as both homes are permanently designated as affordable housing. Some residents have criticized the proposal, dubbing it “double density” and saying that it will cause problems for neighborhoods.

AHAB Chair Ron Gaches, who represents the chamber of commerce on the board, said he thought the proposal as currently proposed balanced all interests.

“I think this starts to strike a great compromise between the interests of our citizens that live in what are already fairly densely populated areas and the interests of this board and the city in trying to look for opportunities to place affordable housing,” Gaches said.

Last month, the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission voted to recommend the proposal after making some changes aimed at addressing concerns from the Brook Creek Neighborhood Association. Some Brook Creek residents said the density bonus would further concentrate affordable housing in neighborhoods such as Brook Creek, where lots are smaller and cheaper, and that the increased density could create more traffic, noise and flooding.

Board member Thomas Howe, who represents Lawrence Board of Realtors, said it was important to acknowledge the neighborhood’s opposition to the density bonus.

“I recognize that we are doing our best to ameliorate the impact of it, but there are members of that community who are very strongly opposed to having more than one house on a residential lot,” Howe said. “And I think that we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that.”

Gaches agreed, saying that the neighborhood raised excellent areas of concern for the city to consider and he thought the recent changes to the proposal acknowledged those concerns. Board member Monte Soukup, Justice Matters representative, pointed to square footage and permit restrictions that the Planning Commission put in place.

The Planning Commission proposed that two affordable homes could be built on one lot as long as both homes have direct access to the street and each house’s lot is at least 3,000 square feet, ensuring that the lot to be divided be at least 6,000 square feet. In addition, those wishing to divide lots in the city’s RS5 zoning district — made up of lots at least 5,000 square feet and common in older neighborhoods such as Brook Creek — would have to be granted a special use permit. The density bonus would be allowed by right in zoning districts with larger lot sizes, specifically those where the lots are at least 7,000 square feet, or in the RS7, RS10 and RS20 districts.

The plan, which was originally proposed by the nonprofit organization Tenants to Homeowners, would be the city’s first land use rule to be directly connected to the affordability of homes. 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.

The Planning Commission’s recommended proposal is in some ways more permissive than the proposal that city staff originally recommended to the commission. City staff is recommending that the density bonus only be allowed in the RS7, RS10, and RS20 zoning districts and that it always require a special use permit. Two planning commissioners voted against the proposal because they said they also wanted to consider requiring the permit process for RS7 lots.

AHAB and the Planning Commission’s recommendation will now be sent to the City Commission for consideration. It estimated that the commission would consider the proposal in mid-October.

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