City takes look at accessory dwellings

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SANDPOINT — A motion tabled during the July 5 City Council meeting regarding accessory dwelling units was put to rest last week.

The main issue with the proposed changes to the ADU ordinance by Aaron Qualls, public works director, came down to one sentence, which council members worried had “subjective standards” that a detached dwelling unit would be required to match the neighborhood and existing structure.

During the July 19 meeting, Qualls proposed a revised version of the ordinance changes, removing that sentence and adding a “purpose and intent” statement:

“This provision provides standards for accessory dwelling units to detached single-family dwellings. These standards are intended to encourage diversity in housing types and provide for smaller, more diverse, and often more affordable housing choices that are compatible with existing neighborhoods.”

While Councilman Stephen Snedden spoke in approval of the changes, Councilwoman Deb Ruehle still felt the changes were subjective with little direction for city staff.

“I would like to send this back to the planning commission with direction to come up with more objective standards, although making it more relaxed in sense of direction,” Ruehle said. “I feel like this is going to become a problem for the planning department — in the way it’s written now it’s very subjective, so it places a lot of pressure on those employees.”

Ultimately, with five of six votes in approval, the motion to approve the changes passed.

Another ordinance continued until the July 19 meeting involved proposed changes to short-term rentals. However, due to substantial proposed changes in the city’s short-term rental ordinance, the public hearing was continued until Sept. 6.

House Bill 219 was recently signed into law, so Qualls and his staff wanted to be sure the legal implications were understood before any changes were made to the city’s ordinance.

One highlight of the bill, he said, includes vacation rentals will be considered residential use. Counties may still adopt regulations to protect neighborhood integrity, as well as health, safety and welfare.

Some of the current requirements include a 300-foot buffer, international building and fire code inspections, only one rental is allowed per owner — with a few exceptions — and a designated local representative to oversee the rental with notification to neighbors.

If adopted, consistent licensing would be required throughout all zones with no business license required. Also under the proposed changes, Qualls said the 300-foot buffer will remain in place.

“It is intended to protect the integrity of the neighborhoods,” Qualls said.

City Council may discuss exempting accessory dwelling units from the 300-foot buffer during future deliberations. They will also discuss whether to keep annual inspections in place or initial inspection only.

Some other topics of discussion include an inactivity clause of 12 nights within 12 months, and whether or not the one owner per vacation rental rule is still defensible under HB 216. City attorney Scot Campbell said the reason for the rule is to keep one person from buying up stock and using it for vacation rentals.

“That was when it was a business, and we were running it and regulating it like a business,” Campbell said. “Now it is a permitted use, residential use, to do this.”

Campbell does not believe, with the residential use, that it is defensible to keep the one owner rule in place.

Also under the current ordinance, the city is experiencing enforcement challenges, Qualls said. For example, there are 59 vacation rentals permitted in residential zones within city limits, with at least 30 operating illegally, Qualls said. In all zones, there is approximately 150 vacation rentals.

“We do not have the manpower to enforce,” Qualls said. “... There is a lot of staff time involved in enforcing, trying to determine where they are, who the contacts are, and then, of course, with inspections currently we not only inspect initially, but we inspect annually. That’s a lot of staff time.”

Mary Malone can be reached by email at and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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