Meeting on second houses produces mixed public input

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 | 10:50 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Columbia needs more single-bedroom affordable housing, city officials say, but there is debate on whether adding additional houses on certain residential lots is the answer.

Nineteen residents discussed both sides of the argument at the final public input meeting Wednesday night. The next step in the process is to review all public input before passing on the draft ordinance to Columbia City Council for final consideration.

Requirements for buiding a second house

According to the draft ordinance, a second house must be:

  • built on a lot that is at least 50 feet wide with a total area of at least 5,000 square feet.
  • shorter than the original house.
  • less than 75 percent the size of the original house or 800 square feet, whichever is less.
  • built more than 10 feet away from the original house.
  • less than 30 percent of the backyard.

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The draft ordinance would allow a second house, or accessory dwelling units, to be built on R-2 zoned lots that already have a house, according to previous Missourian reporting. There is a large concentration of these lots in the central city area, the Benton-Stephens neighborhood and in the East Campus area, according to a presentation by Steve MacIntyre, a planner with the Community Development Department.

Residents were worried about preserving neighborhoods and how people moving in and out of the rented second homes will change the character of the neighborhood.

"Obviously, this isn't going to be good for homeowners," Kurt Albert said. "Yeah, it's affordable, but all ghettos are affordable."

Albert has worked in the Benton-Stephens neighborhood for years, renovating houses and renting or selling them to new families.

One of the proposed advantages of the accessory dwelling units is that it is cheaper to build a second home and rent it out than it is to buy a separate property and rent it, according to MacIntyre's presentation.

Albert, however, said this is untrue.

"It's a whole lot cheaper to repair than to build from scratch," Albert said.

According to Albert, it is better to buy another property and fix it than "chopping up" a property and adding the second house. A renovated house can be just as affordable to rent or buy as a second house.

There was also concern about how a second unit could change the appearance of a neighborhood, especially if the neighborhoods have historic sections.

"This idea of destroying a neighborhood to make it affordable is crazy," Albert said.

For some, the idea of investing in one's existing property and building a second house was more attractive than investing in a separate property.

Not only could the second house on the lot be rented out and provide additional revenue, but it could also be used if an extended family member ever needed to stay with a family member, as local architectural designer Adrienne Stolwyk said at the meeting.

Stolwyk proposed more restrictions to the ordinance in order to make it more attractive to residents, such as making the owner live on the lot, having neighborhoods approve the additional house and limiting the number of bedrooms in the second unit.

Stolwyk further supported the draft ordinance, saying an increased density in the central city would be good for the city. Forcing all the people looking for single-bedroom units to the outskirts of the city would be an added strain because roads and other utilities would have to be extended farther out, she said.

According to MacIntyre, the draft ordinance could be presented to the council later in the spring.

Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.

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