What’s an ADU and Should You be Interested?

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Planning Board chair Jacinda (Cindy) Barbehenn welcomed attendees at the evening ADU forum – Image (c) JMcCT, 2019 all rights reserved – Click to view larger image

By Dot Bergin

Planning Director Tony Fields and Assistant Planner Catherine Perry – Courtesy image (c) JMcCT, 2019 all rights reserved

On May 13 the Planning Board held two open forums on Accessory Dwelling Units to introduce residents to a proposed revision to the Zoning Bylaw. The Board is considering drafting a new bylaw that would allow a detached dwelling unit in conjunction with an existing main house. The current bylaw-dating to the 1990s-allows for an accessory apartment within or attached to the main house, but not a detached structure.

At the 2 pm session in the Richard Reed Room at Town Hall, some 25 residents heard Planning Board members explain the reasoning behind the proposed change. Planning Board Chair Jacinda Barbehenn said communities all over the country, including our neighboring towns, now have provisions for detached ADUs.  They provide an opportunity for homeowners to downsize while remaining in their present homes and generally give flexibility to those who could use some additional income from their property.

Why ADUs?  Barbehenn pointed out that in the 1970s, the average home in Bedford was less than 2000 sq. ft. in size, with an occupancy of 5.2 persons.  Today, the average is over 4000 sq. ft. and the occupancy is 2.2.  She said, “We are creating bigger houses and allowing fewer people to live in our community.” Soon, about 1/3 of our town’s citizens will be seniors, some of whom can’t afford to stay in their large homes but are unable to find smaller homes in town. An ADU would make it possible for a family member or caregiver to live close to an aging relative, or on the other end of the age spectrum, an ADU could provide housing for a small family just starting out. There would be income potential for the primary owner, who must live on the property (no absentee landlords) either in the main home or in the accessory dwelling, depending on preference.  Note: ADUs are NOT two-family dwellings.

Planning Board member Amy Lloyd explained that by definition, an ADU is secondary to the primary dwelling on the property. Today, there are 56 legal attached dwelling units in town with a few others that are grandfathered; there may be others not known to the Planning Board.

Speakers at the forum stressed that the Planning Board is in the “listening” phase at this time, gathering input from residents before drafting a revision to the zoning bylaw.  Later this summer there will be public hearings, with additional opportunity to hear from residents on proposed changes. The Board hopes to come up with a revised bylaw in time to present it at the Fall Town Meeting.

About size and other constraints: Lloyd said the Planning Board is considering an 800 sq. ft. cap on an ADU, which she explained is about the size of a two car garage with a half-story above.  This would allow for a one bedroom, or moderate-size two-bedroom, unit.  The height limit would be 25 feet and one and one-half stories (which is the limit for the new construction units at Pine Hill Crossing) with a 15 ft side setback and a 15 ft rear setback, with additional privacy provisions around doors and windows. There would be a parking requirement of at least one space. The process by which ADUs are permitted is critical to their success, Lloyd said. The term “by right” means an owner can build on or use a property without requiring a special permit (subject to certain restrictions) which would speed up the approval process.  Bedford has a by right clause, but there may be special cases depending on the configuration of the lot that would require a permit.

The audience broke into smaller groups to review poster boards showing existing attached units, size of detached units, parking, aesthetics, and other features.  Planning Board Director Tony Fields and Assistant Director Catherine Perry, along with Board member Shawn Hanegan, were on hand to facilitate discussion and gather feedback.  The lively discussion generated several comments and suggestions for the Board to consider.

Watch The Citizen for more Planning Board discussion and date of future public hearings on ADUs.