Raleigh Report

Not ‘if’ but ‘how’ Raleigh will allow backyard cottages in Mordecai

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.

College grads who need to move back in with their parents may soon have some degree of separation – at least in one part of town.

Raleigh council members on Tuesday instructed city staff to rewrite city rules to allow residents of the Mordecai neighborhood just north of downtown to use their detached buildings for housing.

Raleigh prohibits most residents from living in what the city refers to as accessory dwelling units, also known as backyard cottages or granny flats. But a group of Mordecai residents petitioned the council for an exemption, prompting a city survey of area residents that found 75 percent support the idea.

The council’s move on Tuesday doesn’t immediately allow the use of backyard cottages. City staff is expected to craft regulations for the council to review in January, when Raleigh leaders could officially allow their use.

The move comes three years after the council shot down a similar request from Raleigh’s planning commission in response to concerns about the cottages creating more unwanted noise and traffic.

But supporters of cottages say the buildings nicely accommodate people who know the owners of the primary house but want some privacy, such as renters, visiting friends or relatives. The spaces are typically smaller than 1,000 square feet and are located behind or next to the primary buildings.

The question now is not “if” but “how” Raleigh will allow Mordecai residents to use their detached spaces, Mayor Nancy McFarlane said. The council needs to figure out how to potentially accommodate more vehicles without over-regulating or overcrowding streets.

“It’s tough in Mordecai because a lot of those houses don’t have driveways, and if they do, they only have one car,” McFarlane said.

“That is a concern and that might be something that comes out of the staff review,” she said. “If you’ve got a dwelling unit that already houses four people and you’re gonna add another unit that adds two more, you’re gonna have to have some kind of on-site parking.”

The council considers Mordecai a testing ground for backyard cottages and could potentially allow their use in other areas if they don’t cause too many problems there.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

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