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Emily Talago had two requests: a sunken greenhouse and a hipped roof.

For her hypothetical accessory dwelling unit, that is. And she didn’t want the ADU, or backyard apartment, to look anything like a spaceship, she said — that meant nothing modern, no corrugated metal.

The landscape designer owns a four-bedroom, mid-century house in Midtown, where she lives by herself. She’s occasionally had roommates, but lives alone right now, and having an ADU would be a nice way to subsidize some of her house payment. She also liked the idea that she could help create density and combat Bozeman’s housing shortage.

“I’m a huge proponent of smart infill,” she said.

So she got involved with Montana State University’s ADU project, where architecture students worked with homeowners, the city and contractors to draft plans for six ADUs in Bozeman.

The project came a few months after Bozeman’s new requirements for ADUs went in to effect in April, testing how the changed regulations might work for architects and builders.

Those regulations included allowing ground-floor ADUs, whereas homeowners previously had to build them above a garage, which was difficult to navigate with other height restrictions. There were also some restrictions on ADUs on the older side of town, said Marty Matsen, Bozeman planning division’s director of community development. Until April 2018, the city didn’t permit ADUs in plats created before 1990. Getting rid of that rule created more ADU opportunities in in historic neighborhoods. The three-foot side wall requirement was also relaxed.

Although Matsen said he doesn’t know if the city’s seen a drastic increase in ADU applications, reports from the building office do show a slight increase in people applying for building permits, going from an average of 0.75 permits requested per month in fiscal year 2016 to an average of 1.16 requested each month in fiscal year 2018.

MSU’s project focused on the side east of 11th Avenue, where many of Bozeman’s older neighborhoods lie and weren’t necessarily planned with ADUs in mind. Talago’s lot was tricky, said James Ablondi, since her house was pretty central within the space, and it was tough to find a spot for the ADU that felt natural.

The sunken geothermal greenhouse also didn’t work quite as well as they hoped and would have required more expensive equipment. Ever-contentious parking requirements also made planning tricky.

In total, the estimated cost to build the ADU came out to about $280,000, with the biggest contributions to the final number being $20,000 for a greenhouse and $50,000 to demolish and rebuild a garage, Ablondi said.

That wasn’t the highest cost for MSU students’ projects, though. One ADU’s estimated construction cost was about $380,000, and one of the lower estimates came in at about $180,000, as reported at a city commission meeting. Many students also listed issues with parking requirements as a major barrier.

At least one homeowner so far has decided to move forward with an MSU-designed ADU. Talago said she won’t be constructing an ADU for quite some time, but she loved working with Ablondi and his partner, Chandler Mitchell, and she hopes to one day build her ADU.

Considering all ADUs are studio or one-bedroom structures, the cost estimates reported by the MSU students are high. There are a few important factors to keep in mind, however, said Ralph Johnson, the MSU architecture professor who headed the project.

The homeowners who participated in the project weren’t spending real money, so they could request their ideal ADUs, not necessarily the cheapest options available.

Students ran into problems with construction logistics and roadblocks like power lines in some of the older neighborhoods, Johnson said, and it also takes a good deal of time to build an ADU because of things like inspections and contractors, and around as many fixtures are needed for a small unit as a bigger one. He said a greater demand than supply of people needing contractors and subcontractors also contributes to the problem in Bozeman.

If a homeowner approached a subcontractor and said they wanted to spend around $80,000 and were willing to do what it takes to stay at that number, it could probably be done in Bozeman, Johnson said. It would just have to be small and simple.

Cheaper ADUs are possible in Bozeman. Some newer subdivisions in Bozeman are also being planned with ADUs in mind, Matsen said. Flanders Mill, for example, contains a section with an alley, which makes for more parking spaces and easier construction.

Erica and David Johannessen just moved into their house in Flanders Mill in September. They ended up outside the area optimal for ADU construction, but they said finding a place where they could build one was important to them as a way to help subsidize their house payments and potentially have a place for family down the road.

They ended up on a corner lot in front of a creek, which allowed for more parking. Their 600 square foot ADU came out to around $100,000 to build, and with rent from the couple living there now, it’s paying for itself, and then some, David Johannessen said.

“Our neighbors ask us, if you had to do it again, would you?” Erica Johannessen said. “We would.”

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Abby Lynes can be reached at or 406-582-2651. Follow her on Twitter @Abby_Lynes.

Abby Lynes can be reached at or 406-582-2651. Follow her on Twitter @Abby_Lynes.

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