Planning Board crafts changes to promote housing

Fri, 05/20/2022 - 3:15pm

The Planning Board made significant progress last week in crafting draft changes to the zoning regulations on section 513 accessory apartments but got bogged down in the details when it came to some of the more novel changes. The meeting came a couple of days after the Planning Board had held what became more of a workshop or brainstorming session on the subject of attainable and affordable housing.
One of those ideas was to allow a year-round homeowner to move into their own 513 accessory apartment and then to rent out their main house to others. For some it presents a way to enhance their income, allowing them to “stay” on the island. For others, it was a “way to create a business,” by adding more tourist rentals.
One supporter of the idea said “It’s time to institutionalize this practice,” which some suspect is already occurring. Later the supporter said it was time to “either legalize the practice or enforce the violation.”
A detractor, who has a 513 apartment, pointed out the potential for abuse. His example: “I’m here year-round, can kick out my renter, go live in my 513, rent out the house, and then in the winter, live in my house, rent out the 513…” and then repeat the sequence year after year.
But what if the people renting the main house in such a situation were also year-round residents? “That’s another conversation,” said Planning Board Member Chris Willi.
The other idea that got the Planning Board in the weeds was to allow for increased building density on non-conforming lots. Essentially, the idea is that if one wants to build a 513 they may be granted an extra percent of lot coverage if their lot is already maxed out and is smaller than the minimum size for the zone.
After the last meeting, wherein the idea of increasing the allowable area to 1500, or higher, square feet was discussed, Planning Board member Socha Cohen said she went
home and spent a few hours “digesting” the ideas presented. Regarding square footage, she said: “My house is 1,260 square feet and it would not look like an accessory unit on someone’s lot.”
“So, I’m in favor of increasing area from 1,200 to 1,500 using my house, which is 1,440 and has three bedrooms,” said Willi.
Later, scale would come up again. Should an accessory apartment be, by definition, smaller than the main house? Planning Board attorney Bill Landry cautioned about getting too “numerical” about it, saying properties could have a small house and a large barn.
While each question seemed to invite another, the Planning Board eventually got down to crafting specific amendments to the zoning ordinance for consideration by the Town Council, which would then hold a public hearing on any proposed changes still under consideration.
Under the current ordinance, only two bedrooms are allowed. The draft changes would allow for three “by right,” and four with a special use permit.
On area, the board decided that a 513 accessory apartment of 1,200 square feet should be allowed “by right,” as it is now, one between 1201 and 1500 square feet by special use permit, and one between 1,501 and 1,800 square feet would be allowed by special use permit only in existing buildings.
A question about defining “existing,” elicited a large collective groan, as did Zoning Official Jenn Brady’s question of “And this is in all zones?”
Some of the town’s more commercial zones also allow for a 513 to be rented seasonally for people working on the island. How to sort all that out proved to be a bit much to tackle.
“For what we talked about, this should be residential [zones],” said Willi.
“Why not for other zones if it’s year-round [housing]?” asked Brady.
Chair Margie Comings said: “I think seasonal should go under a different set of regulations.”
Town Planner Alison Ring will draft the proposed changes made so far for further review by the Planning Board.