Bozeman City Hall File

Daffodils peek through a layer of spring snow outside of Bozeman City Hall on April 23.

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A small change in the city’s development codes has the potential to increase the number of accessory dwelling units in Bozeman.

The city is proposing removing requirement from the development code that requires alley access for ground floor accessory dwelling units, which are small residences, sometimes converted garages or sheds.

The city is also considering removing the requirement that ADUs have off-street parking.

Though Bozeman allows ADUs in all residential zoning districts, the current requirements that ground-floor units have alley access limits development to just those areas that actually have alleys, which associate city planner Jacob Miller said are largely the older part of the city around downtown.

“Most of the developments around town within the last 30 years do not have alleys, so this is going to open up a lot of the city,” Miller said Tuesday.

Under the proposed changes, ground floor ADUs would be required to have either alley access or pedestrian access to a sidewalk. The suggestions were made on the city’s public platform to suggest changes to the unified development code.

Making the ADU standards more flexible has been mentioned before as one way to address the city’s housing crisis. It is mentioned in an audit of the city’s code undertaken this year as one way to facilitate “gentle density” in existing neighborhoods.

The zoning commission gave unanimous approval to an ordinance with the changes on Monday. It will come before the city commission in mid-November.

Miller said during the meeting that the city did not do a study to get an idea of how the changes might affect street parking, but said they don’t expect the floodgates will be opened.

“Being that ADUs are not going to be popping up every day, it’s going to be a really incremental change,” Miller said. “It shouldn’t have capacity issues for existing roads and facilities.”

The code audit recommends further relaxations of Bozeman’s ADU standards, and notes they “appear to reflect a fear of unintended consequences,” and that the city should consider “second generation” ADU standards.

Apart from the alley access and parking space suggestions, the audit also recommends Bozeman consider raising the occupancy limit on ADUs from two to four people and increasing the permitted size of an ADU to 800 square feet.

Zoning Commission member Nicole Olmstead said she knows there is a need for more flexibility to address Bozeman’s housing crisis, but said the city needs to balance that with impacts to existing neighborhoods.

“We’re also facing a really important time where we’re trying to understand potential impacts to existing neighborhoods. And I think that those impacts, whether it’s parking, building heights, increased residential density, whatever that looks like, should be definitely taken into consideration and considered appropriately,” Olmstead said.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the current city codes require ground floor accessory dwelling units to have alley access. 

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Nora Shelly can be reached at nshelly@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2607.

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