Accessory dwelling units no replacement for affordable housing

The chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission warned fellow commissioners Feb. 13 that accessory dwelling units like guest homes and in-law apartments can never be viewed as affordable housing opportunities.
“Have you ever priced a cottage rental in Wilton? It is not what I would call affordable,” said Joe Fiteni, the chairman, after the commissioners began discussing a draft of updated regulations for accessory units that is being crafted by Town Planner Bob Nerney.
Further, Fiteni said, there just are not a lot of guest houses and in-law apartments in existence in town.
“It’s a very limited number of apartments,” he said.
The accessory units discussion was on an otherwise interrupted agenda for the meeting at the town hall annex. Two public hearings were postponed to a later date and one was continued.
Fiteni made the comments after a couple of commissioners said they welcome accessory units as part of the solution to the town’s shortage of affordable housing.
Accessory dwelling units could include separate apartments within a home, like a studio apartment above a garage, or a freestanding guest house.
“We don’t have a lot of opportunities for affordable housing, and accessory units can fill in that niche,” said commissioner Franklin Wong. He welcomed a broader range of housing opportunities.
The regulations on accessory dwelling units are being updated to clarify the legal language and provide more direction, said Nerney. 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.
“Almost by default, smaller units generally accommodate an older or younger person and tend to address that need for affordable housing,” Nerney said, referring to the lower cost of renting much smaller accessory units compared with a house.
There would be neighborhood opposition to the construction of guest units, Fiteni predicted.
“There are people who don’t want their neighbors to have accessory units. That’s not why they came here,” he said, suggesting residents like the suburban single-family home environment.