OGDEN — Weber County commissioners have approved a change meant to help bolster affordable housing options in the county.

The measure allowing for more accessory dwelling units — including basement mother-in-law apartments or small secondary dwellings detached from homes — comes amid debate along the Wasatch Front about the scarcity of affordable housing.

The ordinance change “balances the need for affordable housing and the interests of property owners. We think that this could be a model solution and hope it’s implemented wisely,” said Kay Hoogland, who lives in the Ogden Valley, where the measure drew particular attention.

The change applies to all unincorporated parts of the county, but Weber County Commissioner Gage Froerer thinks its provisions are particularly applicable in the Ogden Valley. Minimum lot sizes are generally larger in the Ogden Valley than in unincorporated western Weber County.

The county commissioner thinks empty nesters with newly found space in their homes might count among those who tap into the change. “They want to be able to rent out their basements to missionaries or whoever,” he said.

Whatever the case, Rick Southwick, representing the Northern Wasatch Association of Realtors, told commissioners on Dec. 22 when they were debating the measure that it potentially has broader implications. The city of Ogden has long allowed accessory-dwelling units, or ADUs.

“We’re in a huge shortage of affordable housing not only in Weber County but across the state, across the country, and accessory dwelling units provide an excellent mechanism for individuals, couples, families to have an affordable place to live, to contribute to the care of another,” Southwick said. The real estate community, he added, strongly supports the change.

That said, the change, approved by commissioners at the Dec. 22 meeting, won’t likely result in an immediate spike in the number of ADUs, Froerer said. He described the change as one of an array of possibilities to help deal with the tight housing situation.

And aside from its potential to broaden housing options, Froerer said the change can also serve to focus housing development. If a detached ADU is developed on property in the Ogden Valley, the builder must first transfer development rights from another location in the area, theoretically resulting in clusters of housing and larger open areas where development doesn’t occur. “The idea is to keep it so we don’t have sprawl,” Froerer said.

Moreover, transferring development rights for detached ADUs — that is, standalone dwellings on the grounds of other homes — serves as a guard against runaway development. The prospect of a spike in housing units by allowing ADUs had sparked concern among some in the Ogden Valley, worried about the pressure such a change might have on water resources, among other things. The provision requiring transfer of development rights aimed to alleviate those worries.

“The ADU proposal passed. But this was only after thoughtful consideration, lots of work by the planners and an opportunity for residents’ voices to be heard by the commissioners. The result was a very sound approach that builds on the Ogden Valley Plan that was developed in 2016,” Hoogland said.

New housing created via the ADU ordinance can’t be used for short-term rentals, for those seeking vacation spots for weekend ski getaways in the Ogden Valley, for instance. Short-term rentals are a nuisance for some permanent residents in the Ogden Valley and another point of debate in the area and among county commissioners.

‘AN AFFORDABLE OPTION’

A study released last month by the Kem Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah cited ADUs as one way to address the lack of affordable housing.

“While accessory units have been around for some time, they have emerged recently as a viable option in addressing affordable housing challenges. Their flexibility to serve as an affordable option while providing additional income makes ADUs an attractive housing product,” the report said.

The report cited a University of California at Berkeley study that found that the rent for ADUs, on average, was 58% below market value. “Because ADUs tend to charge below-market rents, they are an affordable option to those entering the housing market,” the Kem Gardern Policy Insitute report said.

ADUs can take the form of basement apartments inside existing homes or housing units above garages, for instance, Froerer said. They can also be detached, stand-alone dwellings on the same land as other homes.

Size guidelines apply, though. For example, stand-alone dwellings can’t be larger than 1,500 square feet, Froerer said.

Froerer said prior to last month’s changes, county ordinance had allowed for “accessory apartments,” rental units inside existing structures. More restrictions applied, though, and the new ordinance bolsters the options.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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