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Garage conversions should be allowed

A proposed change in Medford's building code to allow homeowners to convert garages into living space makes sense.

Many Medford garages have been converted over the years — many, it appears, before detailed building codes were in place. Others may have been done in defiance or ignorance of the rules. Either way, it's hard to see any harm, as long as any wiring and plumbing was done properly.

The city's interest seems to be in preventing people from parking their vehicles on the street or blocking sidewalks, which are reasonable restrictions. Street parking in residential neighborhoods preferably should be for visitors as long as off-street parking is available to residents.

Medford's code does not require covered parking, and many people use their garages for storage, leaving their vehicles in the driveway. As one resident profiled in Tuesday's paper asked, what difference does it make whether she uses her garage for storage or for living space, as long as there is no rule requiring covered parking?

What difference, indeed?

Homeowners whose property values are still recovering from the recession may not be in a position to sell and buy a larger house, but they can afford to turn a garage into an additional bedroom or family room. Adding living space can also help out if an adult child or an aging parent needs to move in.

If the code is changed to accommodate these projects, homeowners will be more likely to secure building permits and have the work inspected, which protects them and their neighbors from substandard wiring, for instance, which could pose a fire hazard.

The Planning Commission has recommended the change as long as the property has enough paved off-street parking for two vehicles without encroaching on sidewalks. That's reasonable, and the City Council should approve the proposal.