Wake County

‘Granny flats’ won’t get an earlier look in Raleigh

A visit to a backyard cottage in Raleigh

Simon Atkinson talks about the cottage behind his home in Raleigh. Atkinson and his wife Robin Abrams believe there is a place for the small residences in Raleigh neighborhoods.
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Simon Atkinson talks about the cottage behind his home in Raleigh. Atkinson and his wife Robin Abrams believe there is a place for the small residences in Raleigh neighborhoods.

Mary-Ann Baldwin said her fellow members of the Raleigh City Council should be “ashamed” after they declined to move faster on allowing “granny flats” to help increase the stock of affordable housing.

Raleigh leaders have been working out a plan that would allow property owners to build accessory dwelling units, or small secondary homes or apartments. Units can include basement or above-the-garage spaces to be rented out.

Raleigh City Council member Mary-Ann Baldwin talks during the Raleigh City Council regular session in the Council Chamber in the municipal building in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, June 21, 2016. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

On Wednesday, Baldwin asked the council to consider discussing the issue Nov. 21, during her last meeting as a council member. Baldwin did not run for re-election this year.

But the council decided to keep the granny-flat discussions in a planning committee for now.

“This is a personal plea,” Baldwin said. “I started working on this more than two years ago ... and I really would like the opportunity to consider finishing this issue that I put a lot of time and effort in by having it come to the full council.”

She continued: “For all of you who campaigned on affordable housing, you should be embarrassed today. ... You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Affordable housing was a hot-button issue in the City Council election this year. The need for more reasonably priced housing options was a major focus in the mayor’s race, in which Nancy McFarlane won a fourth two-year term in a runoff Tuesday.

Accessory dwelling units were recognized in the recently adopted Wake County Affordable Housing Plan as one way to increase density and add to the area’s affordable housing stock with relatively little impact on existing neighborhoods.

Critics say such housing units can lead to parking and traffic woes.

Baldwin’s proposal to sanction them as part of the city’s development rules has been in committee since this summer.

Council member Kay Crowder said members “will do our best” to approve the dwelling units. She said she voted against the proposal Wednesday because she thinks it needs more scrutiny.

“We’re in committee for a reason, and we will get it out of committee when it’s appropriate,” Crowder said. “There are people who are very for it and very opposed to it. In an area with student population, it might become a student rental, which is fine, but you have to be honest about the fact that some of them won’t be affordable units.”

McFarlane and outgoing council member Bonner Gaylord voted with Baldwin to expedite the discussions. Gaylord, who lost his re-election bid, said he was concerned by the number of items still in committee. With two new council members coming on board, he said, committee assignments will change.

“It seems those items should be reported out and dealt with by the committees as they’re currently formed ... before there’s a reboot,” Gaylord said.

Baldwin, one of the most polarizing figures on the council, expressed her frustration.

“Everyone campaigned on affordable housing,” she said after the meeting. “I thought this would be something they would want to move forward with expediency. It’s really disappointing. I feel people are talking out of both sides of their mouths on this issue.”

Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan