At a special meeting on Sept. 21, the West Hartford Town Council heard a report from town staff on accessory dwelling units, for the purposes of forming a zoning ordinance.
Town Planner Todd Dumais said the dwelling units are often referred to by other names, including accessory apartments, granny flats, guest houses, cottages, and in-law suites, and is defined as a residential unit that shares a single-family lot with a larger, primary unit.
Council member Ben Wenograd said that the issue had been discussed over the course of several meetings, and the hope is to open the zoning rules to expand opportunities for people to utilize their property and provide more affordable housing in town.
“This is consistent with a trend around the country of modernizing zoning rules and making sure they don’t get in the way of the kind of community we all want to create,” Wenograd said.
Eighty-four of the 169 towns in Connecticut have zoning permits allowing ADUs, as part of a site plan or regular residential zoning permit. Another 57 allow ADUs as a special permit or exception.
Dumais said he looked at ordinances in 14 towns similar to West Hartford, including Bloomfield, Glastonbury, Simsbury, Farmington, Hartford, and Wethersfield.
“In total, all 14 municipalities permit some type of accessory dwelling unit,” he said. “[Six] of them are as a right of via either administrative approval. Six require some sore of special permit.”
Simsbury and South Windsor, he said, have unique rules based on the type of ADU. Dumais said the ordinances all had clear, well-crafted definitions of what constitutes an ADU, and define the type of unit as attached or detached, have clear parking ordinances, and all of them require that one dwelling on the property be owner-occupied.
Current provisions in West Hartford, which have existed since 1972, state that an accessory dwelling can exist for relatives or domestic employees, as long as it does not have a full kitchen, and has a three-room maximum. Dumais said a report shows that there are 70 ADUs currently in West Hartford, but may include structures including artist studios and finished pool houses, and some may pre-date the 1972 rules.
Councilwoman Mary Fay said there are many types of secondary dwellings in West Hartford, and asked how they would fit into the ordinance.
“Have you taken into [account] unzoned apartments that already exist?” she asked.
Dumais said the “illegal” dwellings are difficult to pick up on, but can be identified via the assessor’s offices and potentially governed by fire and health codes.
Dumais said that ADUs represent a housing choice, are less expensive, and provide a greater flexibility. Many are made for elderly residents to age in place, or for younger family members to “grow in place,” such as college students or young adults to stay near home, work and/or school while having some independence.
“It can also provide another income stream, which can be helpful to older residents or families or residents who own larger properties,” Dumais said. “If these units are created, they are accessible and taxable, so there is a possibility for grand list growth.”
Council members Chris Williams and Fay expressed concerns that the ordinance might change the landscape of single-family zoned neighborhoods.
“I’ve very concerned… that these accessory places turn a single-family neighborhood into a multi-family neighborhood,” Fay said.
Mayor Shari Cantor said the pandemic has shown the need for flexibility in living spaces, and that some could also use an ADU as a way to keep people medically isolated.
“Having that ability to separate someone from a living space, who needs to be separated or isolated, and still be connected to family in some way, could really be a lifeline for some people right now,” Cantor said.
Dumais said other factors when considering an ordinance are design standards, as well as minimum and maximum size of an ADU.
“I think it’s important to get those standards correct,” he said.
For more information, visit www.westhartfordct.gov.
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