groups declare war on
accessory dwelling units legislation
still in draft form and hasn't a sponsor yet, but leaders of
some 'umbrella' civic associations have lined up in
opposition to a county ordinance establishing regulations
for accessory dwelling units, which is expected to be
introduced into County Council soon after the turn of the
Fritz Griesinger, of the Pike
Creek Valley Civil League, called the proposal "a solution
looking for a problem."
Frances West, of the Civil
League for New Castle County, questioned why such a measure
would be necessary when officials of the land use and
community services departments acknowledge that much of what
what would be added to the Unified Development Code with
reference to accessory dwelling units already is permitted
by other parts of the code.
The executive committee of
the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred
reportedly has already approved a resolution opposing in
principle any such legislation.
"Calling attention to this by
a separate [measure] makes it sound a little more sinister
and complicated than what you say it is," West said at the
monthly meeting of civic officers with County Executive
Christopher Coons and other officials on Dec. 7.
"It looks like a lead-in to
'workforce housing'," Griesinger said. The reference was to
incorporating lower-price housing into new or established
Preamble to the draft
ordinance refers to "promot[ing] a range of housing stock."
There was a reference in a previous version to "add[ing]
moderately priced rental units to the housing stock," but
that has been removed from the latest draft.
The community services
department has been working on producing legislation for
several months and has made presentations before some civic
groups seeking comments about what it should contain.
Coons objected to a reference at the meeting to "thousands
of worker-hours" having been spent on the project. "It's
been nowhere near anything like that," he said.
Council president Paul Clark
said the intent of the legislation is to make legal
practices which already exist and to prevent the necessity
for subterfuge to get around some code provisions. "I think
there is a lot of support for that," he said.
An 'accessory dwelling unit'
is defined in the draft legislation as an addition to or
internal modification of a single family detached house
which provides living, sleeping, cooking and sanitation
facilities separate independent of those in the main
They are commonly referred to
by such terms as 'in-law suites', 'granny suites' and the
Land use general manager
Charles Baker acknowledged that it is now fully legal to
build an addition or modify a house to provide for most of
those things. "You can even have a kitchenette so long as
you don't hook up a stove," he said. A building inspector,
he said, more or less has to accept an owner's word that a
stoveless space will not get a stove once the addition is
approved and would not likely have a reason to re-inspect
unless the house is the object of a complaint.
It was obvious in
conversation at the meeting that the civic leaders' concern
had little to do with what's cooking but with possible
future use of such space as a other-than-the-family rental
unit. "That could change the character of existing
neighborhoods," Griesinger said.
The draft legislation would
permit the units to be rented to other than family members,
but would require registration under the county's rental
code and thus subject them to random or complaint-driven
inspection. Moreover, Baker said, "There's no [present]
requirement that you live in your single-family home. You
can move out and rent it to anybody you want."
The draft legislation
provides that the main part of the house or the accessory
unit be the primary residence of the owner. If it is
enacted, the measure would prohibit more than one accessory
unit in a house and require an additional off-street parking
An accessory unit could not
be a free-standing structure separate from the main
residence, but the proposed ordinance would continue to
allow a free-standing 'guest house' on any lot larger than
two acres or conversion of a separate structure, such as a
garage, into an accessory dwelling unit. The 'guest house'
could not be larger than half the total floor area of the
main house and would have to meet all setback requirement in
the code. Such separate structures are now permitted on
three-acre or larger lots.
In an earlier presentation on
the subject, Council was told that, based on a survey of
experience in 47 jurisdictions with accessory dwelling unit
laws, New Castle County could expect about 113 to be
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