After months of scrutiny, backyard cottages take a big step toward approval in Raleigh

A backyard cottage in Raleigh’s Cameron Park neighborhood.
A backyard cottage in Raleigh’s Cameron Park neighborhood.

Backyard cottages have cleared a critical hurdle to being approved within Raleigh city limits, but some worry that the proposed rules will be too taxing for most people.

The regulations, which were recommended by a Raleigh City Council committee Wednesday afternoon, would require your neighbors to vote on whether you should be allowed to build a backyard cottage.

Sometimes called granny flats or accessory dwelling units (ADUs), backyard cottages aren’t currently allowed within city limits. They’re usually standalone buildings that are smaller than the main house or structure and can be used as a place for family and friends to stay or can be rented out for extra income.

The recommended rules outline a special district that would allow backyard cottages, but only after a resident applies for it and a majority of 10 acres worth of the applicant’s neighbors agree to the district. The recommendation also outlines how close the backyard cottage can be to other properties and how big it can be. It also regulates lighting and parking.

The rules wouldn’t allow the cottages to be used for short-term rentals like AirBNB and would limit the occupancy to two adults.

“You can’t be pro-environment, pro-family, pro-affordable housing, pro-inclusivity and be against making it easier to build rather than impossible to build ADUs in the city,” tweeted Brent Woodcox, a supporter of backyard cottages and frequent critic of some Raleigh leaders, before Wednesday’s meeting.

Raleigh leaders will formally hear about the recommendation during Tuesday’s city council meeting, but it will likely be months before the new rules are approved.

The issue will probably be pushed to Raleigh’s citizen planning commission to weigh in on and then it will be back before Raleigh leaders for final consideration.

“I think sending it back to the planning commission and having them work on some of the language that we prescribed is helpful and it’s another public process that gives people a chance to see the work that has been done,” said Kay Crowder, the Raleigh council member who chairs the Growth and Natural Resources Committee. “And then they can make changes or pass it. I think that will be helpful. It’s time.”

Backyard cottages haven’t been allowed in the city since the 1970s but several cottages, including some in Cameron Village, still exist within city limits. Efforts to allow the backyard cottages began in 2012 and 2013.

The issue has become a flashpoint among Raleigh leaders and community members as they debate how and where Raleigh should grow and develop.

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