Public decries accessory unit regulation revisions

The Planning and Zoning Commission May 29 opened a public hearing on its long-standing work to update the regulations on accessory dwelling units like guest cottages and in-law apartments, and the public showed many concerns.

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.

About 15 people attended the session at the town hall annex. It was the first of what is expected to be many opportunities for public input on the revisions to the regulations.

“I see more issues with noise,” said resident Vicki Mavis. “How can it be monitored?”

Mavis did not see the revisions as being of any benefit to the existing neighborhoods, whose character she wants to protect.

She is not alone in that regard. Residents expressed fears that more accessory unit dwellers would mean heavier traffic, diminished quality of life, greater neighborhood density in a town that prizes its two-acre residential zoning, and problems associated with properties not being owner-occupied.

“It won’t be that good for the neighborhoods,” said resident Florence Johnson.

“There’s something about families that is special. It’s the way we live,” said resident Karen Silverberg, in reference to the possibility of units being rented by non-family members.

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, said Bob Nerney, the town planner.

The hearing will be continued June 11.