Monday, June 17, 2024

No good deed: Wilmington issues violation for resident’s accessory dwelling after applying for STR

A Hill Street property owner has found himself in violation of city code for an accessory dwelling unit that was built far before he took ownership of the property. (Port City Daily/File)

WILMINGTON — The City of Wilmington’s new short-term rental ordinance is once again causing homeowners to head to the city’s Board of Adjustment appealing decisions made by zoning staff. In one resident’s case, trying to follow the rules has led not only the city denying him a permit to operate a homestay rental, but also the city issuing a ruling that his detached apartment is an illegal use.

Travis Beatty bought his home off Hill Street in 2014 at a foreclosure. At that time the property consisted of both the main house and a garage and apartment (these are often referred to as accessory dwellings in city code).

The apartment was already completely framed out, had drywall, plumbing, electrical connections, heating and cooling, and a bathroom — it was a functioning apartment at the time of purchase.

Some renovations to the apartment were made, but they were only cosmetic in nature, according to Beatty’s appeal to the Board of Adjustment. Prior realtors for the property have confirmed the infrastructure was in place at the time of purchase — but that has not stopped the city from deeming it an illegal use and issuing Beatty a notice of violation for his property.

But according to city records, it is not exactly clear if and when the accessory dwelling was built.

(Keep reading below)

Then or now, still not in compliance

The garage was constructed about 20 years ago in 1998, but even going off the rules at that time, accessory dwelling units were only allowed in R-5 districts if the lot size exceeded the minimum lot size (5,000 square-feet) by 5,000 square-feet. This meant the property would have to be 10,000 square-feet to allow an accessory unit in 1998, but the lot is only 6,622 square feet, according to city records.

What’s more, is the city claims in 2014 a realtor for an interested party reached out and asked what it would take to convert the garage into an authorized apartment.

“In an e-mail dated September 10, 2014, the realtor and the potential buyer for the property were sent an e-mail from city staff outlining the requirements to convert the existing garage to an accessory apartment, including:
a) Minimum 7’ side yard setback
b) Minimum 15’ rear yard setback
c) Cannot exceed the height of primary residence
d) Total square footage cannot exceed 35% of the square footage of the primary residence
e) Lot size must be at least 7,500 square feet” according to the BOA meeting agenda.

But the property did not meet these requirements then or now.

Utility bills show the property has been listed as an apartment longer than the current owner has owned it. (Port City Daily/Courtesy City of Wilmington)

Normally the city would not be made aware of the accessory dwelling unit unless there was a complaint by a neighbor or zoning staff saw the addition — but this time — it was following that rules that got Beatty in trouble.

In August of 2019, Beatty submitted a registration with the city to operate a homestay short-term rental, attempting to follow the city’s new short-term rental policy — instead — he was cited.

“The registration request was denied and a letter was sent to the applicant on August 6, 2019, notifying him that the reason for the denial is because the accessory apartment proposed for the short-term lodging use was never issued zoning approval. On August 7, 2019, Officer Hatcher mailed a notice of violation to the applicant notifying him that the detached accessory apartment is not a legal use at the subject property,” according to BOA documents.

But Beatty stands by the claim that the apartment was already constructed when he purchased the property and even has some evidence to prove it. When he went to set up both power and cable, both Duke Energy and Charter Spectrum had previously serviced the property and had the accessory apartment listed as “Apt.” and “Apt. B.”

Accessory dwellings are one of the ways the city has discussed implementing more affordable housing in the area but as of now, there have been no significant changes to the city’s code regarding the structures.

It is unclear what the city even expects Beatty to do if his appeal is turned down by the BOA, but getting an answer will have to wait until December since the topic was continued at the November meeting without ever being heard.


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