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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Basement apartments could face new city codes

Aug 28, 2017 11:25AM ● By Jana Klopsch

The Cottonwood Heights City Council and city staff are working on drafting an ordinance for accessory dwelling units along with the Cottonwood Heights Planning Commission. (Kari Sikorski)

By Cassie Goff  |  [email protected]

In Cottonwood Heights, basement apartments are an attractive housing option for young families on a budget. However, there has not been an ordinance specifically addressing such apartments. As the apartments become more popular, more complaints have been raised to city officials. Cottonwood Heights City Council and staff have begun drafting an ordinance to address some of these issues. 

On Aug. 8, during the city council meeting, the city council discussed some of their opinions, problems and possible solutions for such an ordinance. 

“The purpose of this ordinance is to provide more housing options for more people,” said Senior Planner Michael Johnson. 

“Councilman Mike Peterson felt that we should make the primary purpose of this ordinance based on the fact that so many of these basement apartments exist and need to be regulated,” Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore said, since Peterson was absent for this meeting.

As the discussion moved through specific sections of the ordinance, Councilman Scott Bracken brought up an issue. “Where you talk about alternative flexible housing, it gets lost in the ordinance. We should add more clarity that these cannot be used for short-term rentals. This is meant for single family only.” 

In order to license or permit these basement apartments, owners would need to go through the Planning Commission with a conditional use on an existing building designation. 

“The Planning Commission needs to be approving the use of the structure, not the structure itself; which will have its own approval process,” Councilman Mike Shelton said.

“We need to decide if we can enforce specific codes,” Shelton continued. “You have a lot of things that met code when they were built but would not meet code today. It would be illegal nonconforming. It totally makes sense for the ones that are being built today, but for the ones that are already existing this doesn’t make sense. Some of them have been there a long time and they fit well within the neighborhood.”

In response, Cullimore said the ordinance “will act as a tool in addressing some of those issues.”

“We need to recognize that this problem exists. Someone will come in and demand that we enforce the code and they don’t want the basement apartments in the neighborhood. It could create a domino effect and have no path right now that doesn’t require us to shut them all down. We like them because it brings young families into the neighborhood. I want to see more of these in our community and I want it done right.” 

City Manager John Park said parking is the primary complaint from neighbors. Such parking issues could be classified as a nuisance. Johnson recommended city staff look into what other cities are doing “We are trying to protect the single-family housing factor,” Johnson said. 

Cullimore said they want the ordinance achievable for people so the majority of applications meet requirements while also ensuring safety issues are addressed. He said this will improve the situation in the city creating a path forward. 

“We want to make 80 to 90 percent of the people attain it. We want to encourage them,” Cullimore said.

As of Aug. 8, the Planning Commission had a draft for this ordinance and plan on making revisions. After they are finished, an initial public hearing for a finalized draft will be planned for later in September.