There's no question that the value of real estate in Jamestown has skyrocketed over the past few years, especially since the island became a hot market for second home buyers. Unless you already own a home in Jamestown, the average middle class person can no longer live here because housing is no longer affordable. That means our children and senior citizens are moving elsewhere.
Many New England towns are struggling with the same problem. They want to provide housing that is affordable without creating vast apartment complexes that would destroy local aesthetics. Communities are finding that accessory apartments offer a sensible, affordable strategy.
In 1995 the Jamestown Town Council voted to ban accessory apartments from the island. The debate over accessory apartments was long and contentious. People feared that allowing accessory apartments would forever change the character of the island and depress local real estate prices.
Twelve years later those arguments don't seem so weighty. The time has come to consider allowing accessory apartments in Jamestown as a way to create housing that is affordable. An accessory apartment is a self-contained second living unit that is attached to a single family dwelling. An accessory apartment may also be a cottage or guest house or a converted garage or barn. It has its own kitchen, bathroom, and private entrance.
Let's not confuse "affordable housing" with housing that is affordable. The affordable housing designation carries endless rules and regulations to meet federal and state guidelines. That only complicates the issue.
Instead, our goal should be to create housing options that would preserve the diversity and stability of our island neighborhoods. We need housing that will allow young adults who were raised here to continue living here. We also need housing that will permit our senior citizens to remain on the island after they sell their homes.
The debate over accessory apartments should be renewed. If we do the proper research and structure our zoning ordinance correctly we can allow accessory apartments that will provide a reasonable approach to creating island housing that is affordable.
- Jeff McDonough