Williamstown Planning Board Advances ADU Bylaw Proposals
On a vote of 4-1, the planners agreed on a proposal that would create the potential for more detached accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, in the town of 7,800.
The proposal as drafted would allow detached ADUs by right in the general residence district for any property that conforms to the town's dimensional table. On any non-conforming property (typically one that does not have sufficient frontage or setbacks either from the road or neighbors), the ADU would be allowed by a special permit obtained from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Tuesday's vote followed a last-ditch attempt by board member Alex Carlisle to convince his colleagues to add elements to the bylaw that could address some of the concerns that he and others have raised at meetings over the last few months.
"As everyone knows here, I've been pushing for the owner-occupancy inclusion," Carlisle said, referring to a stipulation in the bylaw that required owner-occupancy in order to add any additional dwelling units on a lot.
"I feel at this point that that's a continuing uphill battle. So I'm willing to drop owner-occupancy, but I'd like the limit for dwellings per lot to be two. The other issue I raised was parking."
Part of the argument employed by Carlisle and others in favor of owner-occupancy is that it would prevent "absentee landlords" from establishing de-facto apartment houses in the middle of residential neighborhoods. Limiting the number of ADUs on a lot would be a way of accomplishing the same end.
The Planning Board agreed on Tuesday to send two bylaw amendments to town meeting. One will make it easier to add a second dwelling unit within an existing single-family home (Carlisle voted with a 5-0 majority to approve that article); the second deals with detached units.
If both pass by a two-thirds vote a May's annual town meeting, a homeowner could, in theory, have up to three dwelling units on the same property. Carlisle advocated cutting that number by 50 percent, essentially saying a homeowner should be allowed either an ADU or an interior secondary unit but not both.
But the board spent more time on his other concern: parking.
Carlisle pointed to research in a FAQ prepared by board member Stephanie Boyd to help explain the bylaw proposal to town voters. In that document, Boyd cited a statistic that American households have 1.83 cars per residence.
Currently, the town requires, by law, one off-street parking space per dwelling unit, and the ADU bylaw, as drafted, is consistent with that: i.e., for each ADU added, the homeowner would have to provide one additional space per lot.
"Clearly, statistically, we are under-requesting," Carlisle said.
Chris Winters, who frequently has debated the owner-occupancy provision with Carlisle in meetings, countered his parking argument as well.
"You should compare the 1.83 [average] to the number of spaces that are, in fact, provided at single-family homes in Williamstown," Winters said. "It's vastly more than one. I can fit eight in my driveway. There's a difference between what is required and what is provided. There is no problem in Williamstown with what is provided."
"There is no problem on your property," Carlisle answered. "There could be on someone else's property."
Boyd argued that the town should not be requiring more impervious surface than an individual homeowner may need for his or her circumstances. She also joined Winters in making the case that the market, not the bylaw, will dictate the appropriate number of parking spaces.
Boyd cited a case study she just read of an urban environment where ADUs were permitted without any off-street parking but, in practice, those who added the units added parking anyway.
"All we need to do is stipulate the minimal requirement," Boyd said. "It would be irresponsible for us to err on the side of too much parking."
Carlisle remained unconvinced and ultimately announced his intention to vote against the proposal, fully aware that he hadn't persuaded his fellow board members.
"As you know, I'm very pro ADU," Carlisle said. "I'm just against the way this proposal is written. I'm the sole dissenter. So you guys go right ahead."
Before the final vote, Boyd laid out the reasons why the planners don't expect the proposed bylaw change to drastically affect the character of the town but do believe ADUs can be a valuable option for homeowners that choose them.
Again referring to the FAQ document she prepared, Boyd pointed to Portland, Ore., where the city has an aggressive ADU initiative with multiple incentives for homeowners to add units, as the widely acknowledged leader in the field.
"Their penetration rate is .5 percent of eligible lots," Boyd said.
"In Williamstown, where there are 1,811 building lots in General Residence zone that could be developed, a 1.0 percent penetration rate (twice that of Portland) would mean 18 units," Boyd's document reads. "[A] 5 percent rate would yield 90. To date, three ADU's have been built in Williamstown, 0.16 percent penetration rate."
The board Tuesday accepted no comments from the floor of the meeting before proceeding to its vote.
The two bylaw amendments now go to the Select Board, which, procedurally, needs to refer them back to the Planning Board to set a public hearing. Planning Board Chairwoman Amy Jeschawitz said Tuesday that she hopes to be able to schedule the public hearing at the board's next regular monthly meeting on March 12.
In other business on Tuesday, the Planning Board gave an initial review to a subdivision plan for a parcel off Ide Road, where the owners, Richard and Janet Stratton, want to convert five building lots on 10 acres to seven lots on the same 10 acres.
Stratton's attorney, Don Dubendorf, walked the board through the relief from the town's subdivision bylaw that would be required to accomplish the subdivision, and engineer Charlie LaBatt of Guntlow and Associates explained how stormwater would be managed if more homes are permitted on the site.
The board was receptive to the plan, which would need to come back to the body for final approval at a later date. The one point on which the board sought more information was the plan for tree removal and potential replanting on the parcel; one of Stratton's requests is for relief from the bylaw's requirement for street-side trees in a new subdivision.
Tags: apartments, housing, Planning Board,
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