Public Meeting Recap: Baltimore City Council Bill 18-0188 – Zoning Auxiliary Dwelling Units

carriage house sept 09
Carriage house at the the corner of Auchentoroly Terr and Gwynns Falls Pkwy, September 2009. It has since been demolished. (Source: Google Street View)

City Councilman Dorsey and the City of Baltimore Department of Planning hosted a meeting this evening to introduce a new council bill to approve zoning for Auxiliary Dwelling Units (ADUs). They explained at the beginning of the meeting how council bills and zoning appeals work and their definition for ADUs. They then opened the floor for questions, comments, and concerns. About 20 community members attended and many civil and productive comments were exchanged. Overall, I was pleased with the community attendance and participation because it shows that ADUs are an issue that Baltimore City residents care about.

Dorsey and Planning define ADUs as detached, single-family dwellings that located on the same lot as a principle structure. They are subordinate in lot coverage and floor area to that principle structure, with a gross floor area not to exceed 750 square feet. In order for a property owner to add an ADU, they must:

  • live in an R-1-A through R-10 district
  • meet minimum lot area, maximum building height, maximum lot coverage, and maximum impervious surface requirements
  • apply for and be approved for a conditional use from the Board of Municipal Zoning and Appeals (BMZA)
  • meet applicable building, housing, and health code requirements

I shared my support for the bill, covering the points that I wrote in my previous blog post. Affordability was the key reason that many other residents support the bill. Homeowners can pay off their mortgage faster, and ADUs are more affordable for renters. Carriage houses can be converted in Fells Point, and current renters can afford to stay in redeveloping Remington in ADUs. They allow socioeconomic diversity.

Naturally, there were also concerns. While most people will still want bigger houses and tiny houses are a niche market, this legislation could double neighborhood diversity and change the character of neighborhoods if landlords seize the opportunity to purchase homes, add an ADU, and double their income by renting them both out at inflated prices. Baltimore doesn’t have the land scarcity issues that Portland, Oregon has, so why force density in stronger markets when there is plenty of already vacant land to build tiny houses on in weaker markets? ADUs will cause public works issues such as fire access, water and sewer connections, and storm water drainage. There is also a potential for street and parking congestion in denser neighborhoods that already have issues, such as Federal Hill.

Legislative details of the bill also need to be clarified, including setbacks, density percentages, and maximum lot coverage. The definition of a single family home will also need to be clarified (since there technically could be no such thing as a single family home anymore if the bill passes as is.) For carriage houses in particular, building heights and excluding the garage as living space will need to be examined.

This was only the first meeting, though, and all parties acknowledge that this is just the first iteration and that there will be revisions and tweaks before it goes for vote. So what’s next? Councilman Dorsey will be holding a meeting in his district in April. Once public hearings are announced, support and opposition letters can be sent to the planning commission and city council:

Planning Commission Chair Sean Davis or Thomas J. Stosur, Director, 417 E. Fayette St, 8th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202; email to tamara.woods@baltimorecity.gov

City Council Land Use and Transportation Committee email to jennifer.coates@baltimorecity.gov; cc ryan.dorsey@baltimorecity.gov

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