Zoning commission eyes more lenient rules for accessory apartments

Homeowners looking to rent out converted apartments or build-out a small detached room to house an elderly relative might just be in luck.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing to discuss revisions to the town’s “accessory dwelling unit” regulations at its meeting Tuesday, Jan. 2. The proposed rule-change would loosen restrictions on the minimum property size needed to have a detached dwelling unit — a building or room not attached to the main home.

Commission meetings are held at 7:30 p.m. in the small conference room of the town hall annex on Prospect Street.

The new changes proposed by the commission would allow homeowners whose properties sit on less than one half-acre to build or convert a small apartment (up to 900 square feet), so long as the detached unit is served by the town sewer and water systems.

Under the current rules governing properties less than a half-acre in size “the accessory dwelling shall be attached to or located within the principal dwelling structure,” the regulations state.

Planning and Zoning Director Richard Baldelli said at the commission’s Tuesday, Dec. 19 meeting that the proposed change came up in discussions around the town’s ‘opting out’ of a state law on “temporary healthcare structures.” That law would have allowed residents to set up what Baldelli called “pods”— temporary structures like trailers or prefabricated housing units — in their backyards to care for elderly or impaired family members or renters.

The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to opt-out of that law — a provision allowed for in the regulation — at their Oct. 25 meeting.

At the time, Baldelli noted that the town’s accessory apartment regulation was in many ways more lenient than the state’s temporary healthcare structures law — the town’s regulations allow for accessory apartments up to 900 square feet, whereas the state law capped the units at 500 square-feet.

“When that was passed back in the 90s,” Baldelli told the Selectmen at their Aug. 23 meeting, residents used the law “exactly the opposite of what it was intended for: people moved their parents back in to provide care.”