York Supervisors to Consider Changing Permit Process for Accessory Apartments

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The process for acquiring permission to build an accessory apartment on residential properties zoned for single-family homes in York County could change.

The York County Board of Supervisors decided at its June 3 meeting to start a process that could culminate with an amendment to the county’s zoning ordinance, scrapping the special-use permit requirement for accessory apartments on many properties throughout the county.

An accessory apartment is an independent dwelling unit — at least one room and a full bathroom — located on a parcel of land containing another single-family dwelling, such as a house. Only one accessory apartment is allowed per parcel, and it can only be occupied by family members of people living in the house or guests, medical and health caretakers or domestic employees. Rental of an accessory apartment to the general public is prohibited.

By changing the process, the county would require administrative permits — something handled solely by the county administration — instead of special-use permits, which are considered by the planning commission and board of supervisors. A special-use permit application costs $400 and requires two public hearings before the permit is granted.

The change would increase to 800 square feet or 35 percent of the size of the primary dwelling — whichever is greater — the maximum size of an accessory apartment allowed by right on much of the residential land in the county containing single-family homes. The current limit is 600 square feet or 25 percent of the size of the primary dwelling, with lot-size restrictions for parcels zoned resource conservation and rural residential.

In the last 15 years, the county has received 30 special-use permit applications for accessory apartments. The change would have allowed all but one of those applications to be handled administratively, York County Zoning Administrator Mark Carter told the supervisors at their Tuesday meeting.

The change would do away with the $400 fee and the public hearings. It would also allow accessory apartments approved following the change not to be subjected to annual inspections from a York County zoning inspector who goes to each accessory apartment with a special-use permit to ensure it is being used in a manner that complies with the requirements of the permit. The inspection process with an administrative review is complaint based, Carter said.

“I don’t remember that many neighbors coming out,” York County Supervisor Sheila Noll said Tuesday of the public hearings connected to the special-use permit applications.

“It’s pretty rare that happens,” Carter replied.

Carter said the ordinance prohibits accessory apartments from being rented to the general public to ensure parcels zoned for single-family occupancy do not become multi-family parcels, which often have a greater effect on county services such as schools and fire and life safety.

The change to the ordinance will be prepared to go before the supervisors at their June 17 meeting. At that meeting, they will vote whether to sponsor the change. If they do, the matter will be sent to the planning commission for review. The commission will then offer feedback on the change, which will be sent to the supervisors who will then have the final vote on whether to make the change. There will be public hearings at both the planning commission and supervisor level.