Accessory Dwelling Unit Bylaw Subject Of Upcoming Forums

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Municipal Planning and Zoning , Housing and homelessness , Zoning/land use , Affordable housing

Chatham officials see a accessory dwelling unit bylaw as a way to help people afford to stay in their homes.

CHATHAM – Planning board members hope the public will provide feedback on a revised accessory dwelling unit (ADU) zoning bylaw amendment at two upcoming forums.

The bylaw is designed to encourage more diverse housing choices by allowing year-round apartments in single-family homes. While the units will not have affordability restrictions, officials say allowing apartments in homes can help families meet the high cost of housing, increasing workforce and “attainable” housing, and help seniors remain in their homes longer.

An earlier draft of the bylaw was criticized as being too permissive and increasing density, since it allowed more than one accessory dwelling unit on a property. The newly revised draft addresses many of those issues, said Planning Board Chairman Kathryn Halpern.

“This puts into place more mechanism to control ADU development and void some of the potential undesired impacts,” she said.

“We feel like it's addressed a lot of the original criticism,” Principal Planner Aly Sabatino said of the working draft. “But we still want to hear more from the citizens of the town, what their ideas are and what changes could be made.”

The forums will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 5 p.m. at the annex at 261 George Ryder Rd. and on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 9:30 a.m. at the community center. The planning board anticipates seeking approval of the bylaw at next May's annual town meeting.

The revised ADU bylaw allows units within existing single-family homes or in a separate structure but requires that they be “clearly subordinate” to the principal dwelling on the property. Properties must comply with all board of health and wastewater regulations, including bedroom limitations, but do not require a minimum amount of buildable upland to add an ADU.

ADUs are allowed by right on conforming properties but require a special permit from the zoning board of appeals and planning board on non-conforming properties, according to the draft bylaw. Special permits are limited to 10 a year. A majority of the residential properties in town are non-conforming and would fall under the latter category, thus providing a limitation on the total number of units. Sabatino said she surveyed communities with ADU bylaws and found none had more than 10 per year.

“It was a lot less,” she said.

Other restrictions in the draft bylaw include a limit of one unit per principal dwelling and a prohibition if there is an existing guest house on the site; the ADU has to be a completely separate housekeeping unit from the principal dwelling; the entrance needs to be less visible from the street than the main entrance of the principal dwelling; it must be designed to maintain the appearance of a single-family dwelling; and ADUs are limited to no more than two bedrooms and no more than 40 percent of the habitable floor area of the principal dwelling, with a cap of 800 square feet.

According to the draft, ADUs must be occupied on a year-round basis and can't be rented monthly, weekly or daily, which addresses concerns that apartments would be rented for top dollar in the summer. Property owners are required to file a lease with the building commission every January.

The draft bylaw also includes a provision for an amnesty for existing illegal apartments. To qualify, illegal apartments must comply with the ADU regulations and must have been in existence prior to the adoption of the amendment. The amnesty runs for five years.

Sabatino said officials don't have any idea how many illegal units may currently exist. The amnesty was added by the planning board in order to ensure that existing units meet health and safety codes, she said.

Planning board members have already met with a number of groups to discuss the draft ADU bylaw, Sabatino said, including the zoning board of appeals, the summer residents advisory committee and economic development committee. They made a presentation at the council on aging, and will meet with the finance committee Nov. 27.

While the draft bylaw is not a “silver bullet” to solve the town's housing problem, it is one of a number of tools recommended that local towns adopt to combat rising housing costs and shortages of housing stocks by the Cape Cod Commission and Housing Assistance Corporation.

“We need to balance the need to maintain the beauty and charm and livability of Chatham and our ongoing commitment to avoid excessive growth,” Halpern said. “We want to allow multi-generational living, families to hold on to their property and a town that has housing options for working people of all income levels.”

She added, “I do think this is vital at this time, and I do think we can do it without creating the undesired impacts people were worried about.”

Both Halpern and Sabatino stressed the board's desire to get as much feedback as possible on the draft bylaw.

“We really want people to come,” Halpern said of the forums. “We really want to hear what citizens want.” After the forums, the planning board will review comments and integrate them into a final draft, which will then go to the board of selectmen before a public hearing is scheduled in advance of town meeting.

The draft bylaw is available to read on the planning board page of the town's website.


Accessory Dwelling Units Bylaw Forums

Tuesday, Nov. 27, 5 p.m., Chatham Town Hall Annex

Saturday, Dec. 1, 9:30 a.m., Chatham Community Center