The Prince William Board of Supervisors voted this week to hold a public hearing on a proposal that would allow the construction of small separate apartments, commonly known as granny flats, in single family houses.

Neighboring Fairfax County has already approved a granny flat ordinance but with the provision that either tenant or landlord of the mini-apartments be elderly or handicapped. Fairfax County supervisors said the granny flats will provide affordable housing to elderly or handicapped residents on a fixed income.

Prince William's proposed ordinance has no restrictions on who can build or rent the apartments. But Kathleen K. Seefeldt, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said the supervisors may add restrictions to the ordinance after considering comments from the public hearing.

"We thought we would go in with as broad a proposal as possible," she said. "We want to get reaction from the general public before we start narrowing it down."

Some residents in Fairfax County opposed granny flats, saying they feared their property values would decline if apartments were allowed in their neighborhoods.

Currently, separate apartments are not allowed in single family houses or town houses in Prince William County, say planning officials.

Seefeldt said residents can have in-laws or relatives living in their homes, but cannot build separate quarters with a bathroom and kitchen. "Some county residents would like to add such an apartment for privacy," she said.

"There is a general concern that some county residents, particularly the elderly, find it difficult to find affordable housing in Prince William," said Seefeldt. "We felt the idea of granny flats had sufficient merit to be sent to the public. It's not something we've definitely decided to do--but want to hear more about."

The public hearing will be held sometime this fall, she said.