Othello Council talks ‘mother-in’law’ apartments

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Charles H. Featherstone/The Sun Tribune Othello City Councilmember Corey Everett.

OTHELLO — The Othello City Council considered changes to rules governing residential parking and the construction of accessory dwelling units — sometimes called “mother-in-law apartments” — at its regular meeting last week.

However, the council decided not to make any alterations to the city’s zoning and construction rules over concerns that changing the rules would open the way for more of these dwelling units.

“There are a lot of existing units behind houses, and we’re working on enforcement now,” said Community Development Director Anne Henning.

Henning said the city does not have a process for homeowners to legally create “accessory dwelling units,” and is currently trying to compel all owners of such units — built illegally — to get them up to code.

Proposed changes would allow the construction of accessory dwelling units in portions of the city zoned R-2 through R-4, for multiple family dwellings, but would limit the number of units that could be constructed, The number of people who could live in those units, and mandate access to emergency services, require a separate address, and two parking spaces for the unit.

Council members were concerned, however, about the amount of effort needed to enforce the measure, and fears that allowing accessory dwelling units would encourage their construction and create a situation where people were buying houses as investment properties rather than places to live.

“How many people want these in their neighbor’s backyard?” asked Councilmember Corey Everett.

However, Councilmember John Lallas noted that there is a housing shortage in Othello, and accessory dwelling units could be one way to deal with the situation.

“If done right,” Lallas said, “it would help address the housing shortage.”

Mayor Shawn Logan said there are about 100 accessory housing units in Othello that the city is currently trying to prod the owners into bringing up to code. He said allowing house owners to build these units legally would be hard to track and difficult to enforce.

“This is not the right direction,” Logan said. “I would rather see developers come in and build apartments. I would rather see the need met that way.”

The council decided to hand the issue back to the city’s planning commission for more study.

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