The Mordecai neighborhood north of downtown Raleigh has older homes with relatively spacious lots that could easily hold “backyard cottages.” That’s the preferred name for stand-alone dwellings common in other cities where residents in neighborhoods with larger lots “add on” without technically adding on.
It’s not a bad idea, provided certain questions are answered and guidelines are developed. The Raleigh City Council ought to consider allowing residents in Mordecai, who by a wide margin favor the dwellings, to build in their backyards.
The city would have to limit the density of such dwellings to forestall traffic congestion problems. The council also would need to limit the size of the cottages, connecting that size to the relative size of the main structure on a lot. There might also be a need to limit how many people can live on a single property who are not related to each other. The concern there is that the cottages could become in effect hotels.
The Raleigh City Council has been lukewarm to the notion of such cottages in the past, and not without reason. In Raleigh, after all, traffic is no small concern. And more than the rights of property owners are involved here. Neighbors have a right to feel safe and sound, and to ensure that safety with familiarity – with knowing their neighbors and without worrying about the in-law cottage next door being instead a cut-rate hotel.
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Raleigh’s Planning Commission supported allowing the cottages three years ago, but that group tends to be a little more daring than the council itself. It’s refreshing to see members of the council, most of them veteran members, being open to new ideas and to revisiting those that didn’t pass muster in the past.
An additional benefit to the cottages, of course, is that they could be one answer to the problem of a lack of affordable housing near downtown. Southeast Raleigh is in some areas going crazy with new, ever-more-expensive developments, and it’s not uncommon to see apartments downtown at $2,000 and up a month. If a detached, small structure in someone’s backyard will enable that person to stay in his or her neighborhood by living in a smaller space and renting a larger one – their longtime home – that would seem to be of benefit to many people.
Noise and traffic ordinances could be adjusted to deal with potential problems, but the beauty of allowing a go-ahead in Mordecai is that the council will have a chance to find out if a previous concern about traffic, for example, was justified.
There’s little for the city to lose in giving the thumbs-up to Mordecai residents who want to try this. If it fails, the council can return to previous regulations.