Midtown Raleigh News

Mordecai residents lead charge for backyard cottages in Raleigh

Some residents who live in the Mordecai neighborhood near downtown are trying to convince Raleigh leaders to allow backyard cottages, an idea that didn’t gain much traction three years ago.

The Mordecai Citizens Advisory Council plans to vote at its Tuesday meeting to petition the city to add backyard cottages to the city’s Unified Development Ordinance, which lays out development rules.

The cottages, which are typically smaller than 500 square feet, would be free-standing structures that could serve as rental units, guest suites or art studios.

Raleigh leaders considered allowing backyard cottages throughout the entire city in 2012, but the idea was not approved. Some residents said they worried college students would move in and bring with them noise and traffic.

At the time, city leaders said the topic could be revisited.

Several residents in Mordecai have been working with N.C. State University architecture students to design cottages that range from 300 to 500 square feet. The structures could be built on residents’ lots.

Philip Bernard, a Mordecai resident who had students design a cottage for him, said he likes the idea of remaining on his property into retirement.

His cottage was designed as he place where he could live after he retires from his job as a landscape designer. He could rent out his house, which would provide supplemental income.

Bernard said his cottage would allow him to stay in his neighborhood as long as possible.

“I love my house,” he said. “If I were to downsize as I got older and retired, I could stay here.”

Boost to housing stock

Backyard cottages – also called tiny houses, granny flats or accessory dwelling units – could be beneficial to younger and older residents, said Tom Barrie, director of the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program in N.C. State’s architecture department.

As the cost of living increases in growing cities like Raleigh, small cottages can be a reasonably priced housing option. They can also provide extra income for owners and space for older relatives to live.

“You can live very graciously in a small place, which is what millennials seem to want to do,” Barrie said. “And if you own a single-family house with a cottage, it will help you afford a higher mortgage. This has been a model for generations.”

Raleigh included a vision for backyard cottages in the city’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan, which was approved in 2009. The idea was to create more affordable housing options in areas where people want to live.

City planners used the plan to craft the original proposal for backyard cottages three years ago, said Travis Crane, a Raleigh planner.

Crane said staff did extensive research about cottages at the time, but there were lingering concerns about increasing density in backyards.

N.C. State students researched cities where backyard cottages are allowed.

In North Carolina, the structures are allowed in Winston-Salem and Asheville.

Barrie also found out who typically lives in backyard cottages. In Austin, Texas, planners specifically allowed backyard cottages near colleges because students needed them the most, he said.

Backyard cottages increased property values of homes in Austin, NCSU students found. In Boulder, Colo., cottages added more rental units in the city.

“It’s just another baby step to diversify our housing stock,” Barrie said.

Mechelle Hankerson: 919-829-4802, @mechelleh