SOUTH PORTLAND — Accessory dwelling units, commonly known as in-law apartments or granny suites, would be permitted in all single-family residential zones under a proposal that won the City Council’s initial approval Tuesday night.

Built in attics, basements or backyards, the apartments also would be allowed on lots where buildings already have up to three dwelling units, and not solely as accessory units to single-family detached residences, said Planning Director Milan Navajda.

The council voted 4-0 to approve the proposed zoning changes after a first reading, with little discussion and no comment from the public. A second and final vote is expected in November.

If the changes become law, homeowners would no longer be required to seek a “special exception” from the planning board in order to build an ADU according to strict guidelines.

In the works for over a year, the pending changes put the city at the forefront of addressing the region’s housing crisis and complying with recent legislation that will deregulate ADUs across Maine in July 2023, Navajda said.

Councilors praised the proposal as a significant step toward increasing housing options for people of all ages, from young professionals to older adults.


“I think this is a really good thing,” Councilor Sue Henderson said.

The planning board held a public hearing on the proposed changes in August and unanimously recommended to the council that they were consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.

Under the proposed zoning, ADUs could be as large as 800 square feet on lots that are up to a quarter acre, or as large as 1,200 square feet on bigger lots, Navajda said in a memo to the council. No ADU could have less than 190 square feet of living area or exceed 90 percent of the primary dwelling’s living area.

Detached ADUs would be allowed if they don’t exceed 800 square feet and meet noise, privacy and other building and design standards to ensure they are safe and compatible with their surroundings.

ADU applications would be processed administratively by code enforcement staff without a public hearing before the planning board. That’s one of the changes recommended in the city’s recent Housing Assessment and Strategy Report to promote ADU construction as a form of infill housing.

Parking requirements for ADUs would be eliminated, as recommended in the city’s housing report and required by L.D. 2003, the state law passed last spring to promote home construction. The current ordinance requires each ADU to have two dedicated parking spaces.

To address concerns that ADUs would be built and operated as short-term vacation rentals, the council added language prohibiting the practice and amended the short-term rental ordinance to reflect the change.

That aspect of the ADU ordinance must go back to the planning board for review before the council takes a second and final vote in November. If approved, the changes would become law after a 20-day appeal period.

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