Thornton approves “mother-in-law” units

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Thornton residents will have more housing options to consider after the City Council approved an ordinance allowing homeowners to construct small apartment units attached to their existing homes.

The ordinance, which the council unanimously approved on first reading during its March 19 meeting, would amend the city’s building code to allow accessory dwelling units (ADU) throughout the city in single-family detached homes.

Ward 3 council member Beth Humenik was absent and did not vote on the issue. The second reading of the ordinance will be during the council’s April 9 meeting at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 9500 Civic Center Drive.

Current city codes only allow for accessory dwelling units — also known as mother-in-law apartments — in new developments. City Planning Manager Mike Mallon said the city has not received any applications since the ordinance was approved in Oct. 2011.

Mallon said the proposed ordinance is similar to the one already in place but would add several specific requirements.

These requirements include constructing no more than one accessory dwelling unit per lot; complying with all the setback and height requirements established for the main home; meeting the minimum and maximum site requirements for the accessory dwelling unit; and meeting the same development standards of the principle dwelling unit, including architecture and building materials.

Mallon said the ordinance would also allow for one new parking space per accessory dwelling unit, which would allow a homeowner to construct a new parking pad next to the existing driveway.

“The concept of accessory dwelling units has been before the City Council many times and is in response to City Council’s desire to increase affordable and alternative housing options for the residents of the city,” Mallon said. “Tonight is kind of the culmination of incremental steps to get us to this point.”

Humenik, who has spearheaded the push for accessory dwelling units in the city, said her efforts began in 2009 to address the lack of affordable housing options for the city’s aging residents.

“It is more economical to have parents live in an ADU, in their own living space on their property,” Humenik said. “As my own parents are beginning to get older, we are now beginning to look at alternatives to high housing rents and ADU options that are available as well.”

Humenik said the issue is becoming more pressing as aging residents move into the city to be close to family members but want to live an active, independent lifestyle.

“There is more focus now on the `silver tsunami’ we are facing and allowing baby boomers to successfully age in place,” Humenik said. “ADU’s are a good, affordable housing alternative for our active older adults and senior population.”

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