Our View: Granny pod discussion must continue
As a growing number of communities rush to ban granny pods, we're hoping it doesn't end the conversations.
Minnesota cities and counties have until Sept. 1 to decide whether they are going to opt out of new state legislation that allows installation of temporary structures designed to serve as temporary health-care dwellings for family members or other loved ones in need of added care, but potentially without the resources for other options.
It's understandable that cities and counties want to gain some control on the topic. As Rochester City Council President Randy Staver noted last week, "It's not that we are not supporting of these sorts of accessory development. It's just that we'd like to have control at the local level so that we can deploy this sort of housing or accessory development on terms that make sense for Rochester."
The council first addressed the issue without comment on Aug. 1, when a request to create an opt-out ordinance was added to the consent agenda after the meeting's public comment period was passed. Staff was instructed to proceed without comment from the council.
While the city council received an ordinance without public comments before its presentation, Olmsted County Commissioners held a Aug. 9 informational meeting on the topic, inviting staff and community members to weigh in.
Both bodies eventually decided to join other communities in opting out of the new state legislation, but it's good to hear they are willing to revisit the issue of granny pods.
"I think there is a place for them in in Rochester, and I want to find ways to adopt them sooner, rather than later," Rochester City Council member Michael Wojcik said last week.
Dave Dunn, assistant planning director of Rochester-Olmsted Planning Department, echoed potential support if staff concerns can be addressed. "Certainly this is a great concept, and I think we want to support different housing for our vulnerable population," he told Olmsted County commissioners Tuesday. "It's just some of the technicalities in this legislation really didn't make it feel like it's something we could support."
We understand apprehensions voiced by staff regarding the state legislation. It leaves much open to interpretation and fails to address safety and implementation concerns.
However, the potential for temporarily expanding livable space for an ailing loved one is priceless for families already in tight quarters without the financial means to afford care outside of the home. Providing a temporary private space near their homes, in many cases, would be better than leaving ailing parents or friends in their homes without ready access to a helping hand in case of a fall or other dire circumstance.
Granted, there is potential for abuse of the units, but with a one-year limit before review, it seems like abuse could be controlled rather easily. If the structure is being used improperly, the city or county can have it removed.
However, if the structure is being used as intended, it greatly increases the quality of life for the person needing it, as well as the sense of connection to the family who provides it. It ultimately has the potential for making the city a great place to live and strengthening community connections that are sorely needed.
The discussion of granny pods should not be over. It should be just beginning. City councils and county boards should be addressing options, and staff should be preparing lists of questions and concerns that can be shared with state lawmakers in an effort to make the new state legislation acceptable to more communities throughout the state.
The legislation taking effect on Sept. 1 has good intentions. Now, it simply needs improved implementation.