Draft bill aims to make it easier to build accessory dwellings
November 16, 2023
Via Wyoming News Exchange
JACKSON — Despite objections from some Republican lawmakers and local governments, a state task force is moving ahead with a draft bill to override local building regulations for accessory housing units like detached guest homes or mother-in-law apartments.
Sen. Bob Ide, a Natrona County Republican, warned that the draft bill could add regulation — not reduce it — by layering state rules on top of local ones: “Just looks like we’ve got a one-size-fits-all homeowners association for the state of Wyoming,” Ide said.
Ide raised his objections as the task force worked through details like minimum lot sizes and whether buildings ought to match the exterior, roof pitch and finishing materials of primary homes. The debate played out during the task force’s third meeting, held virtually on Nov. 9.
The draft bill authorizes an “automatic building permit” for accessory residential units within 90 days if a developer can prove the project meets certain conditions. The bill tries to make the placement of these units more flexible and possibly allow prefabricated tiny homes. But Rep. Bob Davis said the draft bill wasn’t ready for “prime time” and questioned the end goal.
“Are we actually creating affordable housing or are we creating affordable rental properties?” asked Davis, a Republican representing Carbon and Sweetwater counties. “We have to address the Airbnb issues. ... that are happening even in our small communities.”
But Ide and Davis lost out to other task force members who wanted to keep working on the bill, including Sen. Mike Gierau, a Teton County Democrat, and Mark Barron, a former Jackson mayor and former Teton County commissioner.
Gierau said he wanted to move the bill forward to keep the conversation about housing going and put pressure on local government.
“So whether this bill moves forward to final completion or, like so many, it doesn’t, I think forward,” he said. “Just to continue this discussion to spur discussion in city halls and county commissions across the state to say, ‘Boy, if we don’t take a good hard look at this, maybe the state may go forward with something.’ ”
Ide countered that pressure on local governments could come from voters. If city councils or county commissions aren’t doing what their constituents want in regard to planning and zoning, Ide said, “replace the guards.”
But other task force members, like Wyoming Business Alliance President Cindy DeLancey, wanted to keep moving the bill forward. She emphasized the need for housing.
“This is an absolute impediment to the business community; we cannot hire and attract workers to come to Wyoming, or even fill Wyoming jobs with Wyoming people and expect them to live in their cars,” DeLancey said. “This is a solution. It might not be perfect, but let’s not sacrifice perfect for good.”
Ultimately, Sen. Gierau made the motion to move the bill to the upcoming Legislative session for further consideration, which Barron seconded. The committee voted 8-4 in favor of the motion.
“I think we’ve got things to work on with the local communities, and I want to work with them,” Gierau said.
Sweetwater County Land Use Director Eric Bingham was among local officials commenting on the draft bill, along with two other draft bills generated by the task force. The other two bills on fees and permitting timelines didn’t move forward last week but are still in play as the task force members continue to work on them.
Housing is a significant issue in Sweetwater County due to trona mine expansions, Bingham said. He called accessory dwellings an “excellent thing” but added that they wouldn’t solve Sweetwater County’s housing troubles because the county already allows them.
“It does provide additional opportunities,” Bingham said. “But really what would solve our problem is higher-density residential subdivisions.”
Bingham also pointed to concerns that the current draft language doesn’t prevent accessory units from going up in industrial zones, might risk flooding by eliminating requirements for proper drainage at rural access points and could have unintended impacts on water and sewer districts.
Park County Planning and Zoning Department Director Joy Hill also raised concerns about encouraging more dense infill housing in rural areas where access to water and sewer is limited. Hill joined other local governments in opposing all three bills.
“It appears that fees, limitations on accessory housing units, and delays in permit processing have been identified as root causes for the housing crisis,” Hill wrote in a Nov. 8 letter. “Have you considered the impacts of short-term rentals on available housing? In tourism-heavy areas, such as Park County, short-term rentals have led to an astonishing decrease in available housing for the people who live and work here.”
The committee touched on regulating short-term rentals during last week’s meeting, with some members suggesting there be no limits.
This story was published on November 16, 2023.