Residents Question Planning Board on Proposed ADU Zoning Bylaw Amendment

The Planning Board last week held a public hearing on a proposed zoning bylaw amendment that would allow detached accessory apartments.

The amendment would replace the term “accessory apartments” with “accessory dwelling units (ADUs)” to allow detached units as well as the current internal and attached units and alter the conditions and requirements applicable to all types of units.

The public hearing will continue on Tuesday, Feb. 9, to give town counsel time to rule on certain issues with the current draft of the amendment.

At the 2019 special town meeting, the amendment fell short of the two-thirds majority necessary to pass. Subsequently, the Planning Board added provisions for site plan review and input from abutters, in response to feedback from debate on the article.

The article was indefinitely postponed at the 2020 annual town meeting; that warrant was streamlined because of the pandemic.

Jeff Cohen, chair of the Planning Board, noted that the article should now require only a simple majority to pass, due to a new economic development package signed into law by the governor.

However, Assistant Planner Catherine Perry noted that, since the definition of an ADU in the amendment differs from the state’s, town counsel may need to weigh in.

Both the state and the town’s definitions include a limit on total square footage at 900 square feet. However, the state’s definition also includes language stating that the ADU cannot be more than half the size of the principal dwelling if that house is smaller than 1,800 square feet.

Perry said the currently drafted amendment includes a section pertaining to a 100-square-foot bonus for energy efficiency and/or universal design. That would cause the amendment to require a supermajority to pass.

The decision of how to best pose the amendment will be discussed with counsel prior to the resumed public hearing.

Planning Board Member Amy Lloyd proposed posing the portion of the amendment allowing a 100 square foot bonus as a separate warrant article at Town Meeting to allow the main article to be decided by a simple majority.

Beginning the public hearing, Robert Kalantari, a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, voiced his own concerns on the amendment. While emphasizing that he supports accessory units, he noted that the current bylaw has an important aspect; any accessory apartments added must maintain the appearance and character of a single-family home.

In his eyes, the proposed amendment would remove this important point. He added that under the proposal, the ZBA would be largely cut out of the process of adding accessory dwelling units.

John Peterson, a former member of the Planning Board, voiced similar concerns. “By detaching a unit, it invades the rights of your neighbors to something they did not purchase originally as a part of their abutting environment.”

Armen Zildjian noted his concerns on how many accessory dwelling units would be built as a result of this bylaw. He said issues with added stress on emergency services and transportation could arise. Lloyd responded, stating that, in Bedford, an average of two accessory units are added a year. If there were a sudden uptick in applications for permits, she pointed out, the issue could be revisited at a later date.

Lloyd added that the cost of building an ADU per square foot is much larger than building a home, creating a significant financial barrier.

Planning Director Tony Fields then added that, under the current bylaw, every home in Bedford is able to add an accessory apartment. Under this bylaw, the change would mainly be allowing the unit to be detached. Cohen added that they would encourage building ADUs into existing structures like barns or garages.

Attorney Pamela Brown pointed out that, with the current zoning, spaces that logically could be used as accessory apartments like garages with upstairs sections cannot be used as such.

She also noted that there may already be detached units in use that have gone under the radar and this bylaw amendment would allow those units to be legitimized. She also noted her appreciation of including the ZBA in considering non-conforming lots.

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Irene Gravina
Irene Gravina
1 year ago

How does one attend the next hearing? People with special needs adult dependents can really make use of the new space options that could be allowed with this bylaw.

Editor’s note: Meeting agendas are listed in The Citizen’s weekly summary, with the most up-to-date agendas on the board or committee’s page on the Town’s website. There is typically a Zoom link, so get online before the meeting begins.

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