2012-10-11 / Editorial

Accessory apartment ordinance a step in the right direction

One of the frequent complaints we hear about Jamestown is that the cost of real estate has made it difficult for members of many extended families to remain on the island.

Whether it is young adults who want to live in Jamestown after they have grown up, or senior citizens who may need some living assistance, the price of living here can be prohibitive. That’s a real shame that people cannot afford to live in a place where they were raised and call home.

A proposed accessory apartment ordinance now before the Town Council may help to alleviate a small part of the problem. The accessory apartments allowed by the suggested ordinance would make affordable housing available for family members. Young adults could remain close to home while they get a start on life. It would also be possible for senior citizens to live near their grown children who may serve as vital caregivers.

The proposed ordinance describes an accessory apartment as a self-contained living unit that is attached to a single-family dwelling. The accessory apartment may only be occupied by a family member or caregiver. When the family member is no longer living in the accessory apartment, the property would lose its certification for such living quarters.

The Jamestown Town Council in 1995 voted to ban accessory apartments. Islanders were concerned that accessory apartments might depress local real estate values and change the character of the island.

That argument doesn’t seem to be as important today. In the years since 1995, Conanicut Island became a hot market for second home buyers. Today, 20 to 25 percent of the houses in Jamestown are second homes. This has driven up the price of real estate. Jamestown has became a prime vacation spot but those people who are important to the day-to-day functioning of the community cannot live here.

We should not confuse “affordable housing” with housing that is affordable. The proposed accessory apartment ordinance does not help the town meet its obligations under the state affordable housing rules. The town will have to continue its efforts to build affordable housing units that meet the state and federal guidelines.

This proposed ordinance is a sensible strategy that helps the community create housing that is affordable. The ordinance provides extended family housing options that would preserve the diversity and stability of Jamestown.

The community should consider the proposed ordinance. Debate its merits at a public hearing. The ordinance is a good first step in helping make Jamestown affordable for many who love this island.

Let’s keep Jamestowners in Jamestown.

— Jeff McDonough

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