Land Management amends accessory residences code

Posted 9/8/21

ELLSWORTH – The Pierce County Land Management Committee approved amendments to the Pierce County Code regarding accessory residences at its Aug. 18 meeting. These changes limit the allowable size …

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Land Management amends accessory residences code


ELLSWORTH – The Pierce County Land Management Committee approved amendments to the Pierce County Code regarding accessory residences at its Aug. 18 meeting. These changes limit the allowable size of an accessory residence if it requires a conditional use permit.

A land use permit allows residential properties to have one accessory residence per lot, as long as they comply with established limits and regulations. With this permit, there can be no more than one accessory residence on one lot. The area of the accessory residence can be no greater than 60 percent of the square footage of the principal dwelling and cannot exceed 1,500 square feet.

If an accessory residence cannot meet these criteria, then the need for a conditional use permit is triggered, which requires it to be smaller than the primary residence and cannot exceed 1,500 square feet. This allows applicants with a smaller LAND MANAGEMENT

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principal residence to apply for a CUP when their proposed accessory residence cannot meet the 60 percent requirement under a land use permit.

According to Land Management Department staff, housing dynamics are changing and more families are housing multiple generations on one property by building accessory residences. The county zoning office has seen a significant increase in the number of accessory residence applications the past few years. The LMC directed staff to develop new code language in order to provide additional permitting options and regulations.

Since 2010, the LMC has authorized 24 accessory residences in Pierce County. Of those 24, three have been more than 1,500 square feet. The average number of square feet has been 1,042.

The code amendments are for “preventing monkey business,” County Board Chair Jeff Holst said.

The referenced monkey business is when people try to build a home almost as large or as large as the primary residence on the same lot and call it an accessory residence, Land Management Director Andy Pichotta said. Another example is for sewage disposal purposes. It could prevent someone from saying one person lives in a three-bedroom house when in actuality, more people do, therefore stressing the permitted sewage system.

County Zoning Administrator Brad Roy said staff realized there might be an issue with the code when they received an accessory residence proposal in which the accessory residence was only 50-100 square feet smaller than the principal residence. Due to state regulations on conditional use permits (CUPs), the LMC couldn’t deny the CUP unless a size limitation is established in the code. If someone proposed something quite large, unless a parameter was in the code, the LMC would have to approve it, unless a public health and safety issue existed.

“Due to changes in 2018, it’s very difficult to turn down now unless it’s a parameter in the land use code,” Pichotta said.

With CUPs, the LMC considered such options as allowing an accessory residence to be a certain percentage of the primary residence’s square feet (such as 60, 75 or 80 percent), capping it a certain number of square feet (ie: 2,000) or a combination of the two. The LMC discussed it at length at the July 21 meeting.

“My mother-in-law apartment is 12-inches-by-12-inches and 14 inches high and she fit in there very nicely,” Holst joked. “But I don’t think an accessory residence should be 8,500 square feet.”

The LMC wants to provide the ability for residents to have a diverse housing stock while preventing fragmentation of farmland, by “cutting off a chunk here, then there.” This rationale, to allow for greater use of accessory residences is based on the county’s comprehensive plan.

One LMC member questioned the feasibility at making the accessory residence limit 60 percent, if the primary residence is already a small home. That would severely limit the size of an accessory residence.

Another chance for issues is creating lots that have three $300,000 homes on them, Holst said.

“What about when it’s time to change hands? That could create a problem for the homeowner selling,” Holst said. “Accessory residences are usually meant to be a temporary fix to a tough solution,” such as a divorced child moving home with a couple of kids.

According to Pichotta, some gray area where someone could take advantage is always going to exist.

“It’s hard to write an ordinance that tight,” Pichotta said.

The LMC chose to move ahead with the public hearing that took place Aug. 18. No one spoke at the public hearing, and the committee approved the code amendment.

Solar energy systems

The LMC also voted to forward code amendments concerning solar energy systems to the Finance & Personnel Committee and County Board. No one spoke during the public hearing regarding the code amendment. Through the recent permitting process for a large solar energy system, the LMC found that adjustments to the code language were necessary for clarity for residents and applicants, regarding limitations established by the LMC.

The amendments clearly state that the LMC has the authority to establish setbacks, height, decommissioning and vegetative requirements for any large solar energy system.

Also voted on

•At its July 21 meeting, the LMC approved a conditional use permit for the expansion of a nonconforming structure for Russell and Sheila Loucks at N8325 1126th St. in the town of Clifton. The structure, built in 1998, is 40-by-60-feet. The Loucks plan to add an 8-by-20-foot deck to the east side of the house.

•The LMC approved a conditional use permit for a two-story accessory residence for Gregory and Beth Burkhart at N1119 375th St. in the town of Maiden Rock. The new accessory residence will need to have its own address. The primary dwelling on the property is 3,630 square feet; the proposed accessory residence is 2,080 square feet, but includes a first floor with no living space (garage, mechanical room and workshop/storage area.) The residence will provide extra lodging for family and friends and boat storage.

•The LMC approved a screening plan for Simanski Metals in the town of Trenton. The business owners will be required to plant 18 trees (probably spruce) every 20 feet along Highway 63; the trees must be at least six feet high. The owners have until October 2022 to complete the task. Simanski Metals is a transportation company that provides containers (roll-off or trailers) to customers for scrap metal or demolition materials. The township has received several complaints about the property; therefore, a screening plan will help shield it from public view.

•The LMC granted a rule exception to James and Vicki Langer for an erosion control plan concerning property in the town of Trimbelle. The LMC also approved a one-lot major Certified Survey Map for the same property.

•The LMC renewed a CUP for BS Construction/Steve Schoeder Properties at N5312 County Road S, Maiden Rock. The committee will also require dust mitigation to be done by the property owner and subleaser.

•The LMC approved the final plat for the Hidden Hills of the Kinni Phase 2 subdivision for Cory and Gena Huppert in the town of Clifton. The subdivision has 33 total lots.