Ordinances, Licenses & Legal Affairs Meeting Notes–23 October

The Ordinances, Licenses & Legal Affairs committee (OLLA) met last night to fine-tune the details in the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinance that was voted for first passage at the 10 October city council meeting. The meeting was co-posted with the Committee of the Whole. All OLLA members were present (Chair McCarthy, Councilors Milo, Madore, Dominguez, and Sargent, who arrived late). Members from the council in attendance were Councilors Furey, Dibble, and Peterson. Committee meetings really are where the councilors get into the nitty-gritty details, but I will not do so here, I will re-cap the changes they made to the ordinance and the results of each vote to adopt the change.

Owner occupancy: The Council had questioned the legality of tying ownership to voter registration. Amanda Chiancola, Senior Planner, noted that this was language commonly used in similar ordinances across the Commonwealth, but the City Solicitor tightened it up to define a primary residence as one where the individual receives voter information, tax information, or any other such documentation. The goal of defining ownership was to ensure people who own multiple properties are adhering to the clause requiring the owner to live onsite. [approved]

Dimensional standards: There was some question about ADUs going into spaces that don’t meet dimensional standards (such as a garage). Such a project and request would require a special permit. [no change]

Maximum number of units: ADUs will not be allowed in buildings with more than five units. This is to prevent apartment complexes from adding another unit. [approved]

Short-term rentals: Previously, though an owner could not rent out the ADU as a short-term rental, they could rent out their home as such. The ordinance has been changed so that the owner of a residence with an ADU waives their right to ever rent out their home or the space (on Air B&B, for example). [approved]

Minimum and maximum square footage: Minimum limit is 350 sq.ft.; upper limit is 800 sq.ft.; 1000 sq.ft. with a special permit. This is “habitable space” and does not include bathrooms. [approved]

Second egress (stairs leading to the outside): After ~45 minutes of rigorous debate about how stairs may undermine the integrity of neighborhoods and an interesting segue into a Chinese story about a snake with feet, it was determined that the egress must be on the side or rear of the building so street visibility is minimized. (I recommend you read the Chinese story about the snake, it’s far more interesting - I’ve linked to one.) [approved]

There were two other points of contention raised by Dibble: first, he feels that the entire ordinance is in conflict with R1 zoning. His example: A homeowner might convert a garage on a property line to an ADU, build it up to the same size as the primary dwelling, and then there would be two residences on the lot. This was swiftly put to rest: the ordinance has size limits, the garage would be a non-conforming building and would require a special permit, and the set backs plus scale would not result in permission. This concern is misplaced. The assertion that this could happen and that the ordinance is in conflict with R1 zoning is just wrong. Nevertheless, McCarthy will get a ruling on this matter from the zoning officer to allay Dibble’s concern.

The other was parking. Dibble was concerned that though a tenant in the ADU mightn’t require parking now, the next tenant might. When the zoning board approves a special permit, they are able to apply conditions to their decision. Parking can be addressed at this time. The ordinance was not changed: essentially, if the residence can accommodate parking on-site, they can proceed; if they cannot, they will need a special permit. They can make their case to the zoning board at that time, and all neighbors will be notified and have opportunity to bring their concerns to the board.

The ordinance and the use table were voted out of committee but without a recommendation. The full council will vote on second passage tonight at 7PM.

OLLA also voted modifications to the short-term rental out of committee with no recommendation. If the ADU ordinance passes, the short-term rental ordinance will have to be updated to reflect ADUs in the rental definition so the two match.

NOTE: It was determined to change the language throughout the ordinance from “accessory dwelling unit” to “accessory living area” to match the language of the previous ordinance on this matter, from which it builds.

Respectfully submitted, Jen Lynch