2012-08-09 / Front Page

Board mulls accessor y apartments

Commissioners discuss if snowbirds should qualify

The Planning Commission at its Aug. 1 meeting continued to discuss drafting an ordinance that would allow accessory-dwelling units for occupancy by family members of Jamestown property owners. Currently, these types of units – also known as motherin law apartments – are only permitted for affordable housing. An apartment must contain separate cooking and sanitary facilities to be considered an accessory-dwelling unit.

Among the issues grappled by commissioners included if they should limit units to one bedroom or two; if they should permit units only within single-family houses or also in separate structures on the same lot; and whether or not they should restrict approvals to homeowners who reside in their houses at least 6 months a year.

Previously the commission examined the provisions of similar ordinances in Bristol, Charlestown, Little Compton, New Shoreham and Warren. The proposed draft ordinance under discussion at its July 18 meeting would authorize the installation of accessory-dwelling units in owner-occupied, singlefamily houses. It would permit occupancy by family members only, defined as people related by blood, marriage or other legal means.

The board at its Aug. 1 meeting dissected the ordinance line by line. (It was modeled after the one in effect in Bristol.) Commissioner Rosemary Enright said extending occupancy to other groups beyond family members may be worth exploring in the future, but is too complex an issue to be addressed at this point.

“Maybe we should look at this as being the first step,” she said. “Look at it from a family viewpoint and see if we can make it work.”

Chairman Michael Swistak, however, was concerned about excluding the disabled as occupants. “I think there are cases where somebody might be disabled or handicapped, where it may not be a family member,” he said. “That’s going to be a rare situation, but I don’t think we should shut the door on that.”

Vice Chairman Duncan Pendlebury voiced concern about the number of occupants in a unit and the resulting impact on the town’s water supply.

Town Planner Lisa Bryer, in response, reminded commissioners that they can craft the ordinance to take the town’s needs and limitations into account. “There are ways obviously to limit either the number of bedrooms or the number of persons,” she said. “All these are things that can be regulated. You can be as strict or as open as you want to be, but there is going to have to be an analysis done on our water and sewer, regardless.”

The draft ordinance being discussed mandates that the owner of the property containing the accessory dwelling unit reside in his or her home for a minimum of 180 days in any single year. Commissioner Mick Cochran questioned how that provision would be enforced.

“I think it sort of begs the question, how are these licenses going to be issued and who is going to enforce this? How will we know if someone is in the house for 180 days?” Cochran asked.

A discussion ensued about snowbirds and whether they would be excluded from the process if owner occupancy was defined as someone residing in Jamestown for at least six months a year. Pendlebury told commissioners that one of the primary goals in expanding the approval process for accessorydwelling units was to assist struggling families.

“I think that the purpose of the ordinance is more to help those people that don’t have three houses and can’t afford three houses, but can afford one house, barely, and could use the support of some family members to help them.”

Language in the draft would also permit an accessory-dwelling unit to be located in a separate structure on the lot. Most of the commissioners supported the provision, provided the separate structure meets all current zoning requirements.

It was agreed that input from the zoning official and town engineer would be needed before final decisions on a proposed ordinance could be made. The Town Council requested the Planning Commission make recommendations to broaden approval of accessorydwelling units for occupancy by family members of property owners.

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