Alexandria officials are considering allowing the construction of rental apartments within single-family homes.
After four years of discussion and several doomed proposals, new draft regulations for so-called in-law rentals or granny flats passed the Planning Commission in a 5-to-0 vote last week. In such units, also called accessory apartments, part of the home is partitioned off to create a bedroom, kitchen and bathroom with a separate entrance.
City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal at its June 14 meeting.
The issue of allowing apartments within detached, single-family homes has pitted proponents calling for a broad ordinance against those who believe special use permits should be required so that neighbors can have input into which apartments are approved.
"We see it particularly as an asset to homeowners who are house rich and cash poor," said Katherine Morrison, coordinator of long-term services for the city's Office of Aging, adding that the elderly and handicapped could especially benefit by renting accessory apartments.
Social service workers initiated the latest effort to allow accessory apartments, according to Morrison, partly because it would provide additional income for homeowners and increase the amount of available housing, and also because standards are needed to regulate the in-law apartments that now exist illegally.
"They're quite abundant," Morrison said. "It's very important for it to be an available form of housing, and so that the city can close down the ones that are not suitable for people to live in."
Several citizens' associations have protested the current proposal. Among the concerns expressed by representatives of the Del Ray, Old Town, Rosemont and Northridge civic associations are potential crime and parking problems, and the lack of a voice for neighbors in the approval process.
"It's almost too easy to put one in and too permanent once it's in," said Pam St. Clair, president of the Rosemont Citizens Association. "This could double the density . . . and basically eliminate single-family zoning."
Morrison countered that the specifics of the regulations prevent duplexes and most potential problems, and said she is more optimistic than in the past about getting final approval for accessory apartments in Alexandria. The new regulations were carefully conceived, she explained, and "We've held all these meetings to see what's acceptable and to get citizen input."
Even if the proposal is viewed favorably at the upcoming meeting of the Alexandria City Council, however, it would be referred back to the Planning Commission staff to create final regulations that would presumably be voted on by the council after the summer recess.
Under the current proposal, which does not require a special use permit, the regulations for those wishing to have accessory apartments in Alexandria are as follows:
*No more than one apartment allowed in a single-family dwelling.
*Owner must obtain a certificate of occupancy and an accessory apartment permit.
*The floor area shall not exceed one-third of the total floor area of the dwelling.
*No exterior alterations shall be made except as required by code (if larger windows are needed for improved ventilation, for example) except that an exterior door may be constructed on the side or rear provided that the bottom of the door does not exceed five feet above the average grade of the house.
*One parking place shall be provided, in addition to any required prior to adding an accessory apartment.
*Accessory apartments not permitted if a variance is required.
*Either the main dwelling or accessory apartment must be occupied by the owner of the lot.
*Accessory apartments are permitted only in homes at least five years old at time of issuance.
*Upon purchase or transfer of property, the new owner must obtain a permit within 90 days if accessory apartment is to be maintained.
In recent years, Fairfax and Montgomery counties and the city of Falls Church have approved accessory apartments.