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Golden Valley residents can now build accessory dwelling units on their properties, after the west metro suburb became the latest Minnesota city to allow them on single-family lots.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to legalize accessory dwelling units (ADUs). The city's goal is to use ADUs to create more affordable and senior housing options — while also recognizing that, because of the cost to build, they won't be a one-size-fits-all solution.

"I think accessory dwelling units are a really important tool in our toolkit for housing, and so I'm really excited about the direction that we're going," said Council Member Denise La Mere-Anderson. "The elephant in the room is that to build an accessory dwelling unit is not cheap … Accessory dwelling units are not a short-term solution to our affordable housing crisis, and I think we all recognize that."

At the council meeting, Mayor Shep Harris said that while growing up, he lived next door to a multi-generational family that built an ADU for aging parents.

"I think there are a lot of multi-generational Golden Valley families, and this might provide some additional continuation of that as well," he said. "So I think it's a step in the right direction."

Metro cities including Minneapolis and St. Paul in recent years have legalized ADUs — residential units that can be part of an existing single-family home or free-standing on the same lot. Depending on the type of ADU, building costs can range from $10,000 to $350,000, according to the Family Housing Fund in Minneapolis.

For those who can afford to build them, ADUs can provide affordable housing, particularly for older adults, said Ruth Paradise, chair of the Golden Valley Affordable Housing Coalition. According to U.S. census data, in 2021 about 20% of the Golden Valley population was 65 or older.

The city conducted a community survey last summer to collect feedback on the ADU proposal, and 70% of respondents said they would consider building an ADU for an aging parent or relative.

Longtime Golden Valley resident Lorie Regenold said she pictured an ADU above her detached garage that she could rent out for additional income or use as housing as she ages. But after doing more research, Regenold said she realized that building an ADU would be unrealistic due to lingering questions about affordability.

"I don't know how it's going to benefit the whole of Golden Valley. I think that it might benefit a very, very small portion of the community," Regenold said. "While I love the idea, I don't know that the wrinkles are ironed out enough to move forward on it."

Over the past year, city staff crafted the ordinance based on feedback from residents and planning commissioners. Due to concerns about neighbor privacy, the final ordinance requires that units be located 10 feet from property lines instead of 5 feet, as required in the existing zoning code for accessory structures such as sheds and detached garages.

Units must be no larger than 950 square feet, or 35% of the main home's total living area, and a minimum of 250 square feet.

"I think one of the top priorities from our planning commission is to make sure that these are allowed in such a way that it's not a burden on the property owner who's trying to build the accessory dwelling unit to meet the standards," said City Planner Myles Campbell, "but at the same time is protecting those next-door neighbors."

Golden Valley's ordinance will go into effect within two weeks.