NORWALK — Concerned that this city's single-family neighborhoods could gradually become more crowded and less desirable, officials want to make it harder for homeowners to add rental units to their lots.
The Planning Commission is discussing various restrictions that could be added to the ordinance governing the construction of so-called "granny-flat" units. Although planners say they do not think they can entirely prohibit the second units, they want to discourage their spread through Norwalk neighborhoods.
"We just feel it's a real threat to the integrity" of R-1, the zoning designation for single-family neighborhoods," Planning Commissioner Herb Williams said, arguing that proliferating rental units would slowly subvert an area's zoning.
The ordinance allowing second units was adopted in 1984 in response to a state law that bars local governments from completely prohibiting second units unless it is determined that they would adversely affect public health, safety and welfare. Since then, only nine units have been approved in Norwalk, often on appeal to the City Council.
But the council--which would have to approve any ordinance revisions--also believes that tighter restrictions are merited, Community Development Director Jeffrey A. Bruyn said.
Although he said the state law was primarily designed to allow families to add an apartment for a relative, the second units in Norwalk are being rented out to non-family members. Most, if not all, of the applications for second units have come from people who illegally converted their garages into apartments, Bruyn said. Often, neighbors have protested the back-lot apartments, but the issue has not stirred communitywide opposition.
In a staff report prepared for the Planning Commission, Bruyn noted that second dwelling units can burden sewage and water services, add to traffic, and even detract from the value of surrounding homes. Of the 20,000 single-family lots in the city, about half are big enough to hold a second unit, representing a potential population increase of about 16,000 people.
Even though state law permits the exclusion of second units for certain reasons, Norwalk officials doubt such reasons exist locally. Instead they are considering tougher standards for granny flats.
For example, the city could increase the number of required parking spaces for second units from one to two, prohibit detached units, limit the number of bedrooms to one and require that the main house and the second unit share the same utility meters.
The Planning Commission expects to make its recommendations to the City Council next month.