The Kodiak Island Borough Assembly voted to pass an ordinance increasing the size of accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, during a regular meeting on Thursday. The at-times contentious process included dozens of public comments and a compromise on ADU permitting.
ADUs, also known as in-law units or granny flats, describe an apartment inside an existing residence, or on the same property. They have their own kitchen, bathroom, and sleeping areas, as well as a separate entrance. ADUs were previously limited 480 square feet, but this new ordinance allows units of up to 575 square feet in R1 (WEB: single family residential) and R2 (WEB: two-family residential) districts, and 725 square feet in all other districts.
The ordinance also comes with new regulations on parking. Previously ADUs required one additional parking space. Now, lots with ADUs will now require five to six spaces, depending on the size of the ADU.
Discussions over the changes to ADU regulations, first proposed by Assemblymember Scott Arndt, have been in the works since August. Thursday’s meeting demonstrated just how much weight the changes carry, with more than a dozen citizens voicing opinions in person or over the phone, and another dozen in write-in comments. At least a half dozen of the voices in support came from Brechan Construction employees and their family members. It should be noted that many of the write-in comments appeared to be form letters.
Many, like Planning and Zoning Commission member Kent Cross, argued that expanding ADUs would help ease the affordable housing shortage in Kodiak. Cross spoke as an independent citizen at the meeting.
“I’m going to echo what other folks have said. Anything that allows people to stay in Kodiak and, and continue to contribute to our tax base and be part of the community, is good.”
Other arguments in favor included the ability to house seasonal workers, earn extra income, and allow elderly people to maintain independence in their golden years. Some argued for an even larger square footage maximum, and many felt the parking requirement was excessive.
“I think you’re going into the wrong direction with the parking,” said Robert Tucker, a Woodland Drive resident. “Six on some of them and five on some of them. How many realistic people are going to live in a 700 square or 500 square foot home? One, maybe two?”
On the other end of the spectrum, residents like Ginny Shank argued against the ordinance entirely, saying ADUs would increase the density of residential neighborhoods and pointing out that a standard Aleutian home is not much bigger than a maximum 725 square foot ADU.
“When we bought our property back in the 70s, it was to invest in a low density neighborhood,” Shank said during the hearing. “Please help me preserve the unique values of living on Woodland Drive.”
When it came time for the assembly to deliberate, most members seemed in favor of the ordinance, but wary about some of the community concerns brought forward.
Assemblymember James Turner suggested reverting ADUs from permitted to conditional use in RR and RR1 districts. That would essentially require homeowners to go through an extended process that includes a public hearing and a Planning and Zoning commission signoff before they’re able to start construction.
Arndt initially resisted, but relented after Assemblymember Scott Smiley, teasing about Arndt’s recent reelection, pushed him to compromise.
“I think this is a nice compromise, and I’m all in favor of compromises.” Smiley said. “When you’re newly elected, sometimes you forget compromises. You know, because you’re just basking in the glory of your electoral, electoral win.”
Over laughter in the room, Arndt joked back, “Who’re you speaking about?”
“I was just speaking theoretically, of course,” Smiley replied.
Assemblymember Andrew Schroeder also suggested reverting the parking requirement to one space, with the option for Planning and Zoning to require more. But here, Arndt refused to budge.
“My answer is no. I will not support that,” Arndt said. “It is the assembly’s job to make the decision here on this ordinance, not to make it arbitrary.”
Turner agreed, citing the potential congestion ADU parking could cause without the broad space requirements.
“I think that street parking is a hindrance,” he said. “I think that people should be parking on their property as much as possible.“
Since only four members present, a unanimous vote was required to pass the ordinance. With the conditional use amendment approved, Schroeder, Smiley, Arndt and Turner voted yes.