Borough assembly members reviewed changes to municipal building requirements for accessory housing structures as one potential solution to the seasonal housing shortage.
“We started looking at the accessory housing standards as a way to allow for a better building standard than what we’ve been seeing in the past for some of these small things,” said Skagway Assemblyman Spencer Morgan, a member of the commission. “We’ve seen tool sheds that have been converted and things like that.”
An “accessory housing structure” is defined as a detached, single-family housing unit constructed in addition to a main building on the same parcel of land. Mobile homes and recreation vehicles are excluded from this definition.
Under current regulations, every structure built within the municipality, including accessory housing, must have its own independent water and sewage lines, which can be cost prohibitive.
“No one is going to build this 190 square-foot house if they have to run an $8-10,000 water service to it,” Morgan said.
Instead, the Skagway Planning and Zoning Commission would like to amend the code to allow for accessory and main housing units to share water and sewer lines with separate water shut-off valves and the ability to drain the water line should the need arise.
Additionally, according to the municipality’s current code, a main housing structure has to have been occupied for a minimum of five years before an addition can be built.
“We thought that was a little bit long, so we wanted to take that down to three years, unless if you’re building for an immediate family member because you don’t want to stifle family members from staying and developing land,” commission chair Orion Hanson said.
However, the commission expressed some concern over introducing the family-member exception, foreseeing that it could be exploited as an excuse to build extra housing, such as employee housing, if the property is put on the market soon after the addition has been built.
Morgan proposed a sunset clause to prevent this from occurring by making new owners subject to the three-year main structure housing requirement before someone else could live in the accessory housing once again, causing some on the assembly to question the practicality of such a measure.
“My only concern is that you’ve got a structure that was being lived in for at least some time span, and it’s basically a semi-permanent structure. I would think that someone would just move right in, especially if it’s employee housing,” Skagway Assemblyman Tim Cochran said.
Hanson said that ensuring compliance for the three-year rule would come down to enforcement.
“But if someone does do that, and they flip and sell it, and we don’t have any enforcement, and our housing standards are as it currently is, I don’t think that’s going to be any different, other than you would already have a code-built structure rather than someone’s shipping container, shack, what have you,” Hanson said.
Morgan expressed an interest in further discussing the changing rules. The assembly has two more readings to do so.
“I hope we can move forward with this partially because it addresses the need for summer housing, and it does it in a way where the summer housing is not going to be sub-standard,” Morgan said.