Carmel considers easing process of building accessory dwellings to address housing option shortage

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The City of Carmel is attempting to address a shortage of low-income housing and downsizing options for seniors by making it easier — and sometimes even required — to build accessory dwelling units.

Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, can come in many forms: A detached unit in a backyard, in a basement, above a garage or elsewhere. Often known as “mother-in-law quarters” or “granny flats,” they provide a separate, independent living space with its own entrance that is secondary to the main dwelling on the site.

Currently, homeowners must obtain approval for ADUs from the Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals. The city is proposing a set of standards for the dwellings to make them an allowable use that would not require BZA approval, and the proposed ordinance requires that 20 percent of lots in new residential developments with 10 or more lots of 1 acre or less include them.

“We feel like accessory dwelling units can be a solution to high housing costs, limited developable land and the demand for intergenerational living. With carefully crafted standards, they can be built discreetly into the character of a new or existing neighborhood while making use of the existing street layout and utility infrastructure that is very costly for new development,” Adrienne Keeling, planning administrator in the City of Carmel’s Dept. of Community Services, said at a June Carmel Plan Commission meeting.

The proposed ordinance allows only one ADU per lot, and it prohibits using the ADU as a short-term rental such as through Airbnb. ADUs are proposed to be between 400 and 1,300 square feet and not include more than two bedrooms. The ordinance would not override homeowner’s association rules, many of which prohibit ADUs.

Janet Chilton, a Carmel resident of 25 years, said she supports the changes. She said she has been looking into options for her next home for years and has found limited opportunities for seniors in Carmel, where she wants to stay.

“My family all moved away. I thought about moving to Colorado, but the idea of picking up and moving far away is daunting,” she said. “This is where I live. This is where my friends are. I am a fan of what’s (developed) in Carmel in the last 25 years.”

Chilton, 68, said she is not interested in moving into a senior living community. She’s considered building a detached accessory unit in the yard of a longtime friend, and the proposed changes could make it easier for her to do so, although she doubts her friend’s HOA would allow it. Still, she anticipates the changes could make it easier to find a good housing fit elsewhere in Carmel.

Other residents don’t think the proposal is a good idea.

Carmel resident Christina Shaughnessy said the plan could lead to increased density and a strain on infrastructure.

“I’m very, very concerned that our peaceful, quiet neighborhood may be radically changed in a negative way,” she stated in a letter to the plan commission. “More people, pets, vehicles/traffic, noise, pollutants, stressors on infrastructure, stressors on recreational paths and parks, stressors on vital services just to name a few of the concerns.”

The Builders Association of Greater Indianapolis stated in an email to the plan commission that it does not support requiring accessory dwellings in new developments.

“While we applaud Carmel for their consideration of housing affordability, we see the mandate for ADUs as hindering consumer choice,” BAGI Director of Government Affairs Kate Collins stated. “Buyers should have choices regarding which type of housing fits them best, and exterior accessory dwelling units hinder this. Construction costs would increase for for-sale properties, making homes less affordable. We would much prefer if this requirement was made optional.”

Some plan commissioners said they don’t support requiring ADUs in new developments, while commissioner Josh Kirsh said he would consider requiring them in more than 20 percent of new homes.

The commission’s residential committee is set to continue discussing the matter at its Sept. 1 meeting. The proposal will go before the full plan commission before heading to the Carmel City Council for a final vote.


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