Accessory apartments get another airing

The Planning and Zoning Commission has set Oct. 8 as the date for the meeting at which it discuss at length its long-standing work to update the regulations on accessory dwelling units like guest cottages and in-law apartments.

The meeting will be at 7:15 p.m. in the town hall annex.

“We’ll address it in full and wrap up where we’re at on it,”  said Scott Lawrence, chairman, during a meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission Sept. 12.

Recent discussion, since the public hearing opened in May, has involved whether to require owner occupancy in one of the units, either the accessory or primary unit, said Robert Nerney, the town’s planning director.

Recent discussion has also involved the question of capping the size of accessory units, Nerney said.

The commission is seeking to update the regulations to clarify the legal language and provide more direction. Over the years, since they were written in the 1980s, there has been discussion about accessory unit regulations, and several of the commissioners found them to be a bit cumbersome and difficult to interpret.

Under the proposed revisions, the Zoning Board of Appeals would be empowered to grant variances for accessory units, something it does not do now.

The allowable size of accessory units would increase, from 750 square feet to 850 square feet, or one-third the size of the principal residence. The owner-occupancy requirement for the main house is being questioned to perhaps allow a homeowner to rent the home as well as the accessory unit.

Residents have said they predict traffic, noise, overburdened schools and other issues.

“It will change the character of our residential areas, it’s not in our best interests,” said resident Marianne Gustafson, speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting Sept. 12.

“It would stress our resources, our water supply, and I’m very concerned. I don’t think it’s smart,” she said. “There’s a smarter way to do it. I’d love to work with you on this. This will stress neighborhood roads, resources and relationships. I’d like to see something else done here.”

The commission sees three or four of these accessory dwelling cases a year. Rental of accessory units is not restricted by blood relationship, and the regulations already allow for non-family members to rent them, but they tend to be rented by relatives like grandparents or college-age children.

The meeting Oct. 8 may or may not signal the end of public comment on the issue.