- Associated Press - Saturday, January 7, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The antique wash stand that Charles Ogden bought at an Omaha auction actually fit in the front room of his new guest carriage house, with an inch or two to spare.

“That was just luck,” Ogden said.

But planning, patience and persistence, not luck, were the key ingredients for the two-story carriage house built behind his home in the Piedmont neighborhood about seven years ago.

It took months of meetings just to get permission to build it. Ogden and his wife Nancy had to get a historic landmark designation and a special permit for the home, and he had to show his plans to the Historic Preservation Commission, the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission and the Lincoln City Council.

The carriage house looks like his home inside and out, from the limestone exterior to the banisters, the door style and the kitchen cupboards.

He was even able to buy back pocket doors that had been removed from his home during remodeling by a previous owner and use them in the carriage house.

The smaller place has many of the characteristics of historic carriage houses: transportation on the first floor (a garage) and living space on the second floor. Historically, the coach driver and stable boy might live on the second floor, Ogden said.

The carriage house is used by family and friends during Lincoln visits, including Husker football games.

It won a Preservation of Lincoln Association award and has some modern and unusual conveniences: an elevator between the two floors and a below-ground walkway to the main house so no guest need get wet or cold.

Ogden hired architect John Badami to design the house and attorney Kent Seacrest to help with the bureaucratic maze required under the city’s zoning rules.

“His creativity and diligence to continue through the process was key,” said Ed Zimmer, city historian and planner who helped guide Ogden through the process.

“It is certainly not a short route, but it is not impossible,” Zimmer said about the ability to add living quarters for someone else on a single family lot.

The Lincoln Journal Star (http://bit.ly/2j6f1Oz ) reports carriage houses, also called back houses, were part of some neighborhoods historically. Zimmer said the North Bottoms might have an ordinary home in front and a smaller place in the back where new relatives from Russia would live.

But zoning rules created in the 1960s and 1970s emphasized single-family homes on lots.

Planners don’t know if the inability to easily add a small house was an oversight or intentional.

Either way, the so-called accessory dwelling units were no longer allowed by right, said city planner Brandon Garrett.

Now, the city’s Planning Department is considering loosening the rules that make it almost impossible to add back houses in most older, single-family neighborhoods.

The city is seeing a request every three or four months from people who would like to build another dwelling unit, generally for an older adult family member or an adult child, said Garrett.

Stefan Carlson, who builds and remodels homes, sees a market for them in Lincoln, both as smaller homes for older family members and as rentals for extra income.

His company, Carlson Projects, has worked with four or five people in the past couple of years who wanted to them.

“It’s nearly impossible,” he said, unless it’s new construction and one has a special permit from the start.

In some communities, housing costs are so high that the additional dwelling units become a way to build something affordable.

“Often their little houses cost more than our big houses do and their big houses cost more than our elementary schools do,” said Zimmer.

But in Lincoln, the market is more family driven.

“It’s nice to have a place for elderly parents in the backyard,” Zimmer said.

Next year, the planning department will put together a working group with representatives from neighborhoods and builders interested in the issue to work through the many issues and questions that flow from changing Lincoln’s rules.

Garrett listed some of the primary questions the group will tackle as it develops a proposed zoning ordinance for consideration by the Planning Commission and City Council.

Size: Should the size be limited by number of bedrooms (two is generally the maximum) or by square footage (500 to 800 square feet are common maximums).

Height: How tall can an accessory dwelling unit be? Most communities don’t want them to dwarf other homes.

Setbacks: How close can they be to neighbors’ property lines?

Appearance: Should there be design standards for building materials? Should the smaller home be required to fit in with the main house? With the neighborhood?

Utilities: Typically, utilities are connected to the existing home.

Addresses: How does the back house get mail?

Who can live there? The rules for this are all over the board. Some communities limit the number of people. But in some cases, the size regulates the number.

Garrett expects Lincoln to require that the owner of the property live on the property, either in the main house or the added home, which is common in other communities.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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