Planning Board Chairwoman Amy Jeschawitz explains the accessory dwelling unit bylaw her board will vote on Tuesday.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — As the Planning Board heads to a special meeting Tuesday to further refine a proposed zoning bylaw on accessory dwelling units, members of the Select Board on Monday endorsed the planners' current direction on one of the bylaw's most discussed elements.
For several meetings, the Planning Board has wrestled with the question of whether second or third dwelling units on a residential property should be allowed only if the property's owner resides at the address.
One planner and several members of the community who have spoken to the board from the floor of its meetings have argued strongly in favor of the "owner-occupied" clause for the bylaw.
The planners voted a couple of months ago, 4-1, to strike the clause, but Planning Board Chair Amy Jeschawitz Monday told the Select Board that her panel plans to continue weighing the option and gathering input. And, in fact, until the board presents a final article for inclusion on May's annual town meeting warrant, all facets of the bylaw are up for debate.
Select Board member Andrew Hogeland expressed surprise that the owner-occupied piece is still on the table, and joined two of his colleagues and the town manager in the opinion that such a provision would be problematic for a variety of reasons.
Hugh Daley noted that by requiring residency of at least one unit by the property's owner, the town would be creating an ADU bylaw that would, as a practical matter, not permit any ADUs because homeowners would not make the investment.
"It is possible to pass zoning regulations that make you feel like you're doing something but they inhibit what you're trying to pull off," Daley said. "The owner-occupied thing feels like that."
Jeffrey Thomas said he was surprised the commonwealth allows bylaws that require owner-occupancy.
Jeschawitz explained that while the state does allow the provision, it advises against towns adopting it. And she reported that Community Development Director Andrew Groff has gathered anecdotal evidence from other communities that have included an owner-occupied provision in their bylaw but regretted the decision.
Thomas also noted the difficulty of financing an accessory dwelling unit — or selling a home — if there is a such a restriction on how the property could be used.
"These aren't just something where you put up four walls and slap a door on the front," Jeschawitz said. "These are fully-functional living spaces. The average cost for some of these run like $100,000. Someone doing this is doing it for a good reason. They either have to have enough cash on hand to do it or they're applying for a loan to a financial institution."
Both Hogeland and Hoch referred to the difficulty of enforcing an owner-occupied restriction on a property with an ADU.
"We're not in the practice of knocking on people's doors and saying, 'Who lives here and what is their relationship to the property owner,' " Hoch said. "[An owner-occupancy restriction] puts our staff in a hard place and sets up a lot of heartburn in the future.
"I'm really pleased the board is thinking about the enforcement of these things."
Jeschawitz said the latest draft of the bylaw the planners hope to bring to town meeting is available on the town's website. She said she hopes to have the final language nailed down as soon as possible so the board can turn its attention to other business it wants to address before the spring's deadlines for getting a bylaw on the meeting warrant and through a public hearing.
In other business on Monday, the Select Board heard from South Williamstown resident Regina Rouse, who has helped spearhead the effort to restore grave markers at Southlawn Cemetery. Rouse told the board that the committee she has served on since 2003 is winding down its work.
She explained how the committee, with the help of funds from the town's Community Preservation Act revenue and grants from the state, conserved 275 stones and monuments by 2014 and recently did another round of fundraising with a goal of generating $10,000 to do more conservations.
Rouse said that if the committee has additional funds in its coffers after it wraps up its current plans with the Connecticut-based Monument Conservation Collaborative, it will transfer the money to the town where it will be restricted for the maintenance of markers.
"I want to thank you for your doggedness, your persistence in getting this project done," Thomas said. "I was on the Community Preservation Committee for two of the funding cycles where we gave money to you. I was always happy to see your presentations and documentation and records. It's a credit to your organizational skills that the project got done.
"I sat at a distance and watched your work and was very impressed."
In his town manager's report, Hoch called the Select Board's attention to an article he shared with the body about the town of Framingham, where officials face a $161,000 deficit in the sanitation budget because of the high cost of recycling.
"Once upon a time, communities had revenue from recycling," Hoch said. "Now it's a net drain, and the drain is getting larger."
Hoch said that locally, he anticipates that the town's recycling costs likely will show up in the sticker fee residents pay to use the transfer station. While users pay a per bag fee for refuse, there is no charge for recycling. So the only way to keep up with the increasing cost of disposing of recyclables is to address it through the stickers.
"I don't have an order of magnitude yet," Hoch said.
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