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City may loosen rules for garage apartments, mother-in-law suites

SALISBURY — Mother-in-law suites and granny flats will come under review as the Salisbury Planning Board considers whether to recommend loosening the city’s stringent regulation of the homes, which are officially dubbed “secondary dwelling units.”
Just about any living quarters that is inside, behind or on top of a primary residence or garage and has its own entrance, kitchen and bathroom is considered a secondary dwelling unit. Under current city code, these homes cannot be constructed larger than 750 square feet, no matter how big the primary residence is.
Property owners who want to build a mother-in-law suite or finish a basement or an attic as an apartment also must receive a special use permit, which requires a public hearing and nod from City Council. Special use permits are most often used when a business wants to sell alcohol
Salisbury has had only one secondary dwelling unit constructed since City Council adopted the Land Development Ordinance in 2008, which regulates the structures. That home is in Fulton Heights, said Preston Mitchell, the city’s Planning and Development Services manager, at Tuesday’s planning board meeting.
About a half dozen people over the years have inquired about building a secondary home on their property, Mitchell said, and a few were dissuaded by the 750-square-foot limit.
But the idea of a secondary home, whether standalone or a finished basement or attic, is growing in popularity, and Mitchell recommended the planning board revisit the city’s rules.
“These are now encouraged and becoming more popular across the country,” he said.
He said the city can take “baby steps” while officials consider whether to remove the special use permit requirement and allow larger secondary homes.
Mitchell suggested allowing the homes to be constructed up to 40 percent of the size of the primary home, rather than the 750-square-foot limit. The secondary home would still be “subordinate” to the primary home but scalable in size, he said.
Mitchell also said the city needs to drop the requirement that the property owner live in one of the dwellings if there are primary and secondary homes on the lot. A court recently struck down that regulation in a lawsuit in Wilmington.
Planning Board Chairman Carl Repsher appointed a committee to study secondary dwelling units and report back to the full board, which will advise City Council.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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