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Friday, Dec 14, 2018
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Boost local economy with granny flats

A common campaign theme for Republican candidates this year has been the promise to create jobs by getting government out of the way. For most candidates we've interviewed, the talking point is only a philosophy. Very few have thought of specific policies to put the concept into action. Here's one. Cities and counties could temporarily suspend their impact fees for the construction of accessory dwellings.
Hillsborough County already has some of the most liberal rules in the state for adding a garage apartment, granny flat, student cottage, pool house, or backyard cabin, whatever you want to call it. The basic rules, explains Tom Hiznay, a senior planner with the county's planning/zoning division, is that the structure cannot be larger than 900 square feet, must conform to building codes and that the property owner must live in the primary house. It can be attached or detached and can be rented to anyone. Eliminating impact fees could save $2,000 to $3,000 in the cost of the building, depending on its size and location, says Bob Hunter, executive director of the City-County Planning Commission. We have generally opposed the county commission's creation of impact fee-free zones in the county; the tax break shifts the costs of roads and schools to taxpayers at large, and the main beneficiaries are developers. But the impact of dozens of new mother-in-law cottages scattered throughout the county would be minimal, even if no fees were collected. Many of the occupants would be young adults or retirees likely to take the bus or carpool and unlikely to have school-age kids. The recession has led to record numbers of foreclosures and layoffs. Many families have had to double up. Old neighborhoods, such as Tampa's Hyde Park, offer a variety of living accommodations for a diverse population. Some houses include rental apartments used by all sorts of people who can't afford to buy property in the upscale neighborhood. This flexibility adds to the neighborhood's charm and value. The apartments give new graduates a convenient place to live while trying to land their first real job. They give the elderly a chance to live independently near their grown children. Of course, such diversity is not for everyone. Many subdivisions have deed restrictions which forbid accessory dwellings, no matter what the zoning or fees might be. Yards in many other neighborhoods are too small to accommodate even a tiny cottage. But for many other areas, the potential exists to add a cottage or apartment, which would create construction jobs and at the same time improve the rental options for families squeezed by the recession. The county now has about 6,000 or 7,000 properties with granny flats or similar rentable units, estimates Warren Weathers, chief deputy property appraiser. A few modest safeguards, such as limiting the dwelling to one renter, could keep the provision from being abused and having someone turn a backyard shed into a flophouse. State law already allows a property tax break for accessory dwellings used for parents or grandparents being cared for by children who own the primary home. Lowering or eliminating the fees would help more families cash in on that incentive. In Portland, city officials waived development fees for three years, effective April 15. Already, 36 applications have been made to build granny flats, more than in any year for the past five years. The policy is a practical incentive to promote private investment in affordable housing in a variety of neighborhoods. Hillsborough should give it a try.
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