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By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — Should Dunn County have an ordinance to allow Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in the county’s zoning code?
The zoning office is receiving up to four or five or six calls a week about ADUs, said Diane Morehouse, county board supervisor from Menomonie and a member of the Dunn County Planning and Resources Committee, at the August 22 meeting.
“I think we desperately need this,” she said.
An ADU is a smaller dwelling on the same lot with a larger primary dwelling.
In other locations, ADUs have been used for family members to live in, either parents or children, and also have been used as rental units.
ADUs have been described as a way for older people to “age in place,” because they have family members close by who can help them when they need it and yet still maintain a certain amount of independence.
An ADU can be a separate structure, or it can be part of the primary dwelling, which could include a converted attached garage, a basement apartment or part of the house separated out and remodeled as an apartment.
The results of a recent housing study done in Dunn County shows that the county has a definite housing shortage. The study also notes that Dunn County has an aging population.
“I am fully supportive of moving forward,” Morehouse said.
Pros and cons
A video presentation shown by Anne Wodarczyk, Dunn County zoning administrator, noted that some of the disadvantages of ADUs are privacy concerns, regulatory difficulties and less green space.
Mike Kneer, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said he wanted to know what other disadvantages might be associated with ADUs so that if people ask him about ADUs, he will be able to talk about the advantages and disadvantages.
Wodarczyk said she had tried to find other disadvantages of ADUs while researching the topic.
As the PR&D committee discusses the concept of an ordinance allowing ADUs and more public comments are received, more disadvantages will most likely emerge, Wodarczyk said.
Regulatory difficulties will be one disadvantage, along with keeping the ADUs “reined in” so they do not get out of control. Appropriately-sized septic systems will be another area that could present difficulties, she said.
Pierce County is a nearby county that has an ADU ordinance, so Wodarczyk said she would want to contact Pierce County to find out what disadvantages they have discovered about ADUs.
Dunn County can learn from other areas that have tried ADUs, she said.
If an ADU is in a city, being a rental unit might be considered a disadvantage, Kneer said.
Could Dunn County limit ADUs as rental units? he asked.
The ordinance can contain requirements for either the primary residence or the ADU to be owner-occupied, which seems to be a very common standard, Wodarczyk said, adding that she did not know if it would be possible to say that there could be no rentals.
Placing a 30-day minimum on rentals would deal with the concern of people moving in and out frequently, noted Tom Quinn, county board supervisor from Downing and chair of the PR&D committee.
If the requirement for rental is longer than 30 days, that would cut the influx of short-term residents in neighborhoods, Wodarczyk said.
Dunn County does not have a short-term zoning ordinance for short-term rentals, such as for renting out a home as an Airbnb, she noted.
Right now, if people want to rent out their homes on a short-term basis, all that is required is a license from the health department, Wodarczyk said.
If ADUs would be allowed with single-family residences, what about twin homes or duplexes? Kneer asked.
ADUs would be appropriate with single-family residences and that would help keep the density lower, Wodarczyk said.
Kneer also wondered about basements being used as ADUs and noted that there are probably many finished basements in Dunn County used as a living space.
If a basement living space is a shared living space with the residence, then Wodarczyk said she would not consider it be an ADU.
If a basement living space is closed off from the residence and has a separate entrance, then it could be considered an ADU, she said.
Kneer said he was certain there would be some people who would say “not in my backyard” concerning ADUs, and that those people will have reasons for not wanting ADUs.
It would be useful to anticipate the reasons so they can be countered when necessary, he said.
Putting the idea of having an ADU ordinance “in front of people” so the PR&D committee can receive public comment and feedback will be important, Wodarczyk said.
The standards associated with ADUs in the sample ordinance might be a good summary of some of the issues people might raise about ADUs, Morehouse said.
Could an ADU be larger than the primary residence? asked Gary Bjork, county board supervisor from Colfax and a member of the PR&D committee.
ADUs generally have to be smaller since they are an accessory to the primary residence, Wodarczyk said, noting that for anything described as “accessory” she thinks of it being physically smaller.
Quinn asked what the next steps should be.
Wodarczyk said she would contact other areas with ADU ordinances, find out the concerns and obstacles, and then bring information to the PR&D committee for discussion.
The ordinance should move along fairly quickly so the committee is not waiting months and months before it can be approved, Morehouse said.
Wodarczyk said she had been working on an ordinance but wanted to get information from other places before she did more work on the ordinance.
Wodarczyk provided a sample ordinance in the PR&D committee’s packet.
Here are some of the provisions of the sample ordinance that could be used in a Dunn County ordinance:
• The purpose of this ordinance is to provide regulations for the establishment and use of accessory dwelling units within the jurisdiction. These regulations aim to balance property owners rights, promote diverse housing options, address affordability concerns, and maintain the character of residential neighborhoods.
• An ADU shall only be allowed on a lot with an existing single-family dwelling.
• A property with an ADU must be owner-occupied, meaning the owner of either the primary dwelling or the ADU must reside on the premises.
• The maximum number of ADUs on a single lot shall be one.
• Attached ADUs are allowed within the existing structure of the primary dwelling and must have a maximum size, no additional setbacks are necessary, and the owner must provide proof of a separate access for the ADU.
• Detached ADUs are separate from the primary dwelling, must have a maximum size, must have setbacks, a maximum height, and shall be architecturally compatible with the primary dwelling and the neighborhood.
• Need off-street parking requirements.
• An ADU shall have separate utility connections from the primary dwelling.
• ADUs may be rented out for a minimum term of 30 days.
• Property owners must obtain a permit before constructing or establishing an ADU.
• Property owners must notify adjacent neighbors of their intent to create an ADU before obtaining a permit.