90 day amnesty set for bandit dwellings in Glenwood Springs

An example of a legally permitted accessory dwelling unit in downtown Glenwood Springs. Several illegal units also exist around town, leading City Council to offer an amnesty period for owners to bring them into compliance.
John Stroud | Post Independent

A 90-day make-good period for illegal dwelling units in Glenwood Springs is mostly aimed at addressing life-safety concerns, with the possible caveat of increasing the city’s stock of rental units that could carry with them affordable housing provisions.

City Council last week OK’d a resolution giving amnesty from May 1 through July 31 for any accessory dwelling units (ADUs), such as basement or garage apartments, or partitioned sections of primary houses, that were constructed over the years without proper permitting.

It’s a chance for property owners to take advantage of certain fee waivers to bring the “bandit” apartments into compliance. Otherwise, they could eventually come to light whenever those properties sell, or through enforcement of city building codes resulting in possible fines and demands that the units be removed.

“The main point of this is public safety,” said City Councilor Steve Davis, who brought the suggestion before council for consideration. Lack of proper emergency access, basic code issues and things like not having smoke detectors are a concern, he said.

“There are many of these types of dwellings in Glenwood that emergency officials are not even aware of, to where the Fire Department shows up and doesn’t know there’s a family living in the basement,” Davis said. “It would be good if we can get these on the record, so we are aware of them and where they are located.”

Doing so could also prompt some property owners to seek additional incentives that were recently approved by the city, where certain development impact fees can be waived in exchange for landlords setting rent caps based on household income guidelines.

Unless someone owns up, or city code enforcement is called out to check a specific complaint, there’s no way of knowing how many bandit units exist, said Gretchen Ricehill, the city’s interim community development director.

While converted garages and other types of external units are easier to spot, the more inconspicuous ones are typically basement units or sections of a larger house that have been partitioned off and given a separate entrance, she said.

“Usually when the issue comes up is when someone goes to sell the house and the prospective buyer comes into the city and discovers that something wasn’t done properly,” Ricehill said. “The best way for people to get it cleaned up is to take advantage of this amnesty period.”

The main goal is to make sure any accessory living areas are safe for the inhabitants, she said.

ADUs are allowed in most of Glenwood Springs’ residential zone districts, as long as they meet certain requirements, including that the unit is not less than 300 square feet or more than 850 square feet, and that it does not exceed 49 percent of the floor area of the primary dwelling, according to city code.

The unit also must be deemed compatible with the primary dwelling, and all building, setback, height and parking requirements are to be met, unless the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission grants a variance.

The amnesty period allows anyone who has an existing illegal unit to submit a permit application in exchange for administrative and certain other fees being waived.

Owners will have to pay $250 for a building inspection, and will need to make sure any compliance issues that are identified are fixed within one year, Ricehill explained. Materials purchased to do any improvements are also eligible for sales and use tax rebates, according to the rules.

Any zoning violations would also be subject to a variance review by the city, for a greatly reduced fee of $100.

“During the amnesty period, the building permitting and plan review will be waived,” Ricehill said.

Those fees can vary depending on the cost of construction, she said, noting that one recent application had fees amounting to more than $725 for the building permit and $123 for plan review.

“We will work with people as much as we can within the code,” she said.

And, if an owner wanted to add the unit to the city’s new affordable rental housing inventory, certain impact fees such as those related to water and sewer system improvements, school impacts and emergency services, can also be waived.

The guidelines require that rents be affordable to households earning up to 120 percent of the area median income, holding rents to no more than one-third of an individual’s or family’s monthly income.

More information about the ADU amnesty program can be found on the city of Glenwood Springs website.

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