Counties, cities, act to meet “granny pod” deadline

As the trend of backyard-cottage living evolves and expands, counties and cities have been opting out of regulations the Minnesota Legislature enacted by a vote of 113 to 17 during the 2016 session: Revisions to statute 394.307 pertaining to Temporary Family Health Care Dwellings, nicknamed the “granny pod” rules.
The new law makes clear that counties and cities may choose to opt out of the regulations but to do so must pass a resolution before Sept. 1.
The Mille Lacs County Board approved its opt-out resolution Aug. 16. Sherburne County commissioners had the resolution on their Aug. 2 agenda. The cities of Milaca and Princeton are on their way to opt-out resolutions before the deadline, according to their respective city administrators.
Small-dwelling background
The tiny-house trend began blossoming during and after the recession, and it has gained popularity for a number of reasons: People are downsizing, simplifying and streamlining their lives and their budgets. Kids live with their parents longer and need more space than a bedroom. Aging parents need various forms of help or can’t afford traditional housing on their limited, fixed incomes. All sorts of people need in-home care for various reasons.
The tiny, cottage-type housing comes preassembled and ready to use; they usually have about 300 to 500 square feet of living space that includes a kitchenette, bathroom, bedroom and living area. Water and electricity are supplied either by the main-residence utilities or by a setup like those in a recreational camper.
While the small dwellings provide a needed solution for some, the entities responsible for zoning and development codes struggle to balance the interests of neighborhoods, local laws and individual preferences. City lots do not typically have room for a second dwelling, and when someone wants to build a structure such as shed or shop, the permitting process includes neighbor notification and a public hearing.
Part of the new “granny pods” section enables the structures to be permitted without a public hearing. The law language states: “Due to the time-sensitive nature of issuing a temporary dwelling permit for a temporary family health care dwelling, the county does not have to hold a public hearing on the application.” Counties would also have 15 days to issue or deny the requested permit.
The new requirements on “temporary family health care dwellings” include stipulations for the structures:
•They must be less than 300 square feet and not attached to a permanent foundation.
•They must meet accessibility requirements.
•Dwellings materials must meet residential construction standards.
•They must be connected to main-residence utilities.
•Septic service must be performed, managed and documented.
•A site map must be provided.
•One temporary dwelling is allowed per lot.
•One individual is permitted per dwelling.
Where applicable, a caregiver would apply for the “temporary family health care dwellings” permit and give basic information about themselves and the “mentally or physically impaired” person to receive care. The application requests a written physician’s certification about the impaired person’s condition and their need for assistance. The living units are subject to inspection, and the permits for them cost $100 initially and $50 per renewal; the permits are good for six months at a time.
Local entities reject special-permit option
Mille Lacs County Land Services Director Michele McPherson shared information about the new rules. She has yet to understand the timeline of the law, since the topic seemed to pop up when legislators were focused on other priorities during a short session.
Notes attached to the bill at the state’s website show that representatives from NextDoor Housing testified at two senate hearings. McPherson said it had been her understanding that a “granny-pod” manufacturer had sponsored and lobbied for the new regulations.
She summarized the county’s position by saying that cities and counties believe local ordinance and development standards should stay local, with obvious exceptions such as statewide standards for group health homes and day care facilities. McPherson speculated it’s possible that the small-dwelling manufacturers found the regular permitting process to be slow and cumbersome, so they lobbied the state to create allowances.
She said the main concerns among government entities are privacy issues and the possibility of plopping down the structures without proper notification or a public hearing. Land-use permits become public record and presumably all the protected health- or medical-related data becomes public along with them.
“As a zoning administrator, you’re asking me to keep data on file that has data-practice or privacy or HIPPA issues,” McPherson said. “I don’t want any part of that.”
McPherson said Mille Lacs County values land-ownership rights and said the dwelling issue is complex. It involves people trying to take care of their loves ones, neighbors who don’t like what other neighbors are doing, enterprising ventures trying to do more business and sometimes multiple layers of governmental interest and regulation. Additionally, the “granny pod” rules give cities and counties an unfunded mandate plus sets the permit fee for them.
Most counties opt out because they have other ordinances that cover such uses. Cities are opting out because such land uses are not normally allowed within city limits anyway; urban lots don’t typically have enough room for the small structures.
McPherson said the county opted out because it can permit the little homes either as a second dwelling or as a recreational camper and do it within a reasonable amount of time, such as a maximum of 60 days. Also, unlike the new regulations, neither of the local options have a short deadline or square-footage limits.