Zoning commission eases accessory unit rules

Homeowners looking to build out small rooms to rent might be in luck.

The Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to ease the town’s rules on accessory dwelling units at its meeting Tuesday, Jan. 2. The new changes will allow homeowners who sit on lots of less than one-half acre to build a detached accessory dwelling unit — one in a separate building from the owner’s home — as long as the house is served by town water and sewer.

“By allowing a property served by sewer to have an accessory dwelling unit, it might make [the accessory dwelling unit rule] a little more frequently used,” said Planning and Zoning Director Richard Baldelli.

The changes also clarified language which seemed to imply that a detached unit has to mimic the architectural look and style of the main home. That rule applies only to accessory units included in the main home — rooms built out as apartments — Baldelli explained, because an apartment on the home’s interior is not permitted to alter the building’s exterior in any way.

Commissioner John Katz at one point asked whether changing that language would give the commission less control over an accessory apartment design. If a resident came in with a plan that was inconsistent with the neighborhood, he argued, what means would they have to deny it?

But Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti explained that because the accessory dwelling rules only require a site-plan review, and not a special permit from the commission, they already have no control over the look and style of an accessory apartment.

The plan, which was submitted by the commission, came up in the town’s discussion around a state law on temporary healthcare structures, which would have allowed residents to put up small temporary housing units in their backyards in order to look after an elderly or disabled person. Because the town opted out of that ‘granny pod’ law, which was allowed under the statute, the Board of Selectmen asked Baldelli to look at loosening some of the town’s restrictions on accessory dwelling units, in order to fill in the gap left by the law.