Neighborhood groups win delay on ‘granny flat’ rule changes in Winston-Salem
Neighborhood groups won a round at City Hall Monday night, as a majority of the eight-member Winston-Salem City Council voted to postpone action on passing new and looser regulations on secondary housing on residential lots.
The council voted 5-3 in in favor of postponing action on the new rules until Feb. 7, so that some sort of public forum can be held to give people a chance to weigh in on what kind of rules are needed.
“People who have invested in the city and have skin in the game deserve a forum,” Council Member John Larson said, after he provided a second to a substitute motion by Council Member Annette Scippio to postpone action.
The issue before the council is how to allow a property owner to have what is called an accessory dwelling unit (or ADU) in planning lingo, and is more commonly called a granny flat, in-law apartment or a basement or garage apartment.
The council voted after a public hearing in which 10 people spoke and most favored postponement. No one voiced outright opposition to allowing people to have a secondary dwelling on a property — either attached or detached from the main dwelling — but there were plenty of voices calling for more discussion.
“Our concern is that it feels like this is being pushed down our throats,” Victor Walsh told the council. Walsh who said he was speaking for people in his Old Town Heights neighborhood, pointed out that the Winston-Salem Neighborhood Association, an alliance of various neighborhood groups, had been involved in previous discussions that led to the development of the current rules.
“Unlike the previous time, when the Winston-Salem Neighborhood Association was involved, we have been excluded from this one,” Walsh said.
Advocates of loosening the rules asserted that the current rules the city follows are too restrictive: Since passage in 2017, they said, the current regulation process has seen only two of the secondary dwellings win approval.
“I have had six clients ask me to design ADUs for them,” said Salvador Patino, an architect. “None of them went through because of the current system. No one wants to lose $1,000 because a neighbor does not like what you are doing.”
Under current regulations, someone wanting an ADU has to plunk down a $1,000 fee, and get the city council to approve a rezoning to allow the dwelling.
John McPherson, speaking for area real estate agents, said ADUs are not a “magic bullet” for the current housing crunch, but that they can be part of the solution.
“The average priced rental increased $200 in the past year,” he asserted. “The housing supply is sad. It is becoming something very hard for people to do.”
But Scippio said residents she’s talked to in Reynoldstown, in eastern Winston-Salem, say that they are worried that investors will come in and put more dwellings on “already small lots.”
Scippio picked up on a comment that Carolyn Highsmith from the Winston-Salem Neighborhood Association made to the council on Monday, complaining about how her group wasn’t invite to work on the new rules.
“We have residents who want to help us make a good ordinance, and yet we are not allowing them to do that,” Scippio said. “I am in favor of accessory dwellings, but also in favor of allowing residents to speak and help us have a better city.”
Council Member D.D. Adams made the original motion to approve the new rules before Scippio intervened with her substitute motion. Adams said that the discussion going on around ADUs has been taking place for years and that city staffers were qualified to suggest what rules the city should follow.
“This is not the end-all, be-all,” Adams said. “We can review it in six months, find out how many are requested.”
When the vote came on Scippio’s substitute motion to postpone action, she received support from council members Barbara Burke, Robert Clark, Larson and James Taylor. Opposed to the substitute motion were Adams and council members Jeff MacIntosh and Kevin Mundy.