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Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Midway residents build St. Paul’s first Accessory Dwelling Unit

Posted on 10 July 2018 by Calvin

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
ADU stands for Accessory Dwelling Unit. It’s a familiar acronym in many parts of the country, especially in the big cities of the Pacific Northwest where housing costs are soaring. Midway residents Chrissi and Eric Larsen started thinking about building one shortly after they bought their 1922 home two years ago. The City of St. Paul soon issued an ordinance that allowed them to move forward with their ideas.

St. Paul’s ADU ordinance has been in effect since November 2016. It defines an ADU as a second dwelling unit, subordinate to a principal one-family dwelling, within or attached to a one-family dwelling or in a detached accessory building on the same lot. Property owners don’t need a variance to build one.

Photo left: Eric and Chrissi Larsen on the deck of their newly completed Accessory Dwelling Unit. The 600 square foot, one bedroom apartment sits on top of their two car garage. They are the first homeowners to build an ADU in St. Paul. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

There is currently renewed conversation in St. Paul about expanding boundaries to open the possibility to a larger part of St. Paul. The Larsen’s home is barely within the zone limits of the 2016 ordinance. “Only 5% of St. Paul fell within its boundaries,” Eric said.

“It has to do with building density along the transit corridor. The area involved is one-half-mile north and south of University Ave., between Lexington Pkwy. (to the east) and Emerald St. (to the west). Our property squeaked in by just two blocks.”

“Our garage was in such bad shape,” Eric explained, “that it was hardly usable. Its footprint measured 12’x18’. In designing its replacement, we decided to increase the size to 24’x26’ and to build a second story ADU of 600 square feet. We were in compliance with all the other requirements. We have a lot that’s 5,000+ square feet. We built only one accessory unit on our lot. As the property owners, we’ll live permanently in either the principal unit or the ADU. The ADU roof doesn’t exceed the height of our principal structure. There’s room for one off-street parking space on the property, and all building code requirements for the ADU have been met.”

The Larsens hired architect and builder Steve Petry of Arden Hills to help them with their design. Eric worked full time on the project for eight months, which helped keep building costs down. The finished ADU is a pleasant and comfortable one bedroom apartment with entry from either an interior or exterior stairway, 10’ ceilings, generous natural light, and a 250 square foot deck. It includes a sliding barn door to the bedroom, a huge bedroom closet, high energy efficiency overall, and a ventilation system that helps the unit “breathe.”

“Chrissi and I want this to remain a flexible space, at least for the time being,” Eric said. “We’re currently using it to host family and friends. We don’t plan on selling our home, but if we did, we believe the ADU would be a plus in many ways. Obviously, it would make for a higher asking price, but it would also raise the income potential for the new owner.”

Last year, the St. Paul Planning Commission heard from District Councils around the city that they were also interested in developing this housing option. Following a public meeting two months ago, the Planning Commission recommended that the St. Paul City Council pass a city-wide ordinance.

Eric said, “Our experience has been very positive. During construction, our neighbors were supportive and agreed with us that ADUs are a good way for neighborhoods to grow. ADUs offer homeowners a lot of flexibility over time and use fewer resources like gas and electricity due to their size. We encourage people to be open to accepting them in their neighborhoods, and to be engaged in the process of expanding St. Paul’s ADU ordinance boundaries.”