2014-04-24 / News

Council amends ordinance to relax rules on in-law units

By Margo Sullivan

To simplify the rules about inlaw apartments, the Town Council on Monday approved minor amendments to the zoning ordinance.

The council had approved the accessory dwelling units in October in an effort to help multigenerational families support each other and stay in town. However, after two homeowners applied and neither could qualify, the planning department suggested some changes that would allow more property owners to accommodate elderly parents or adult children.

Planners came up with two minor amendments intended to make in-law apartments available, Town Planner Lisa Bryer said.

One amendment would allow in-law apartments on undersized lots. Some restrictions would apply, however. The home must be owner occupied, and the exterior could not be altered without a variance or a special permit. Also, the ordinance sets other limits on the number of bedrooms to avoid problems with septic systems, water quality and neighborly inconveniences.

“We thought about it long and hard,” Bryer said. The original concerns about undersized lots remain valid, she added, but there was room for compromise.

“There are ways you can permit it without too much of an impact,” she said.

The amendment does not preclude the right to apply to the Zoning Board of Review for relief if the homeowner still cannot meet the ordinance requirements.

The second change relaxes the rules about in-law apartments in detached structures. The amendment will allow accessory units by right as long as the building meets the setback and other zoning requirements. If not, the homeowner could apply for a special-use permit, Bryer said.

“Hopefully, we will have some more applications,” she said. Bryer indicated that the two applicants who were denied can now reapply.

Council President Kristine Trocki noted that the town is maintaining checks and balances so the in-law apartments will not create a neighborhood nuisance or contribute to problems with water quality. For example, homeowners must reapply annually and the inlaw apartment does not continue with a property transfer, such as a sale or the death of the owner. Moreover, if residents should find out about in-law apartments operating illegally, they should report them, she said.

Councilor Mary Meagher offered an amendment that corrected an error regarding square footage calculations, and the council approved the ordinance change.

During open forum, B.J. Whitehouse questioned the council’s position on the “possibility of a performing arts center.” He began by stating that he was not speaking in an official capacity, either as the chorus director or as a member of the School Committee. He went on to list the many community organizations.

Then he turned to Councilor Eugene Mihaly and asked if he were charged by the council to hold a meeting on the performing arts center.

Trocki looked surprised and asked for specifics.

Whitehouse said the meeting took place March 18 in a private home.

“I didn’t chair it,” Mihaly put in.

“I was not certain,” Whitehouse replied. “You were answering the questions. The questions were directed to you.”

Whitehouse allowed that he had arrived late, but added that it was not clear Mihaly was “not a representative of the Town Council.” The councilor told the gathering it was his opinion that the “idea of having a performing arts center at the golf course had withered” among his colleagues.

Whitehouse paused, then asked, “When did this withering take place?”

In fact, Trocki said, the councilors have not discussed the performing arts center as a group, but the matter is on the April 29 agenda.

“It was proposed there would be a couple of open meetings,” Whitehouse said.

He thought the issue was worth a discussion because as it stands, some elderly people are carrying heavy musical instruments and chairs up and down several flights of stairs due to lack of storage.

Trocki verified the process will begin on Tuesday.

Whitehouse said he wanted to make it clear he was not seeking taxpayer funding for a performing arts center.

Nota said people who cannot attend the meeting can email or call him with their questions.

In other actions, the council:

• Adopted a resolution expressing support for a constitutional amendment to extend the state ethics commission’s authority over members of the General Assembly;

• Voted to advertise a May 19 public hearing on Plantation Catering Inc.’s request for an expansion of use and a Class B tavern license;

• Approved a one-day license for the Cal Ripken League opening day parade on May 3;

• Rescheduled to June 18 a joint hearing with the Planning Commission on the comprehensive community plan;

• Postponed action to support a statewide ban on plastic bags to allow Nota time to investigate its impact on town government, which, among other requirements, would be charged with enforcement;

• Appointed Joseph P. McGrady Jr. to an unexpired three-year term ending Dec. 31, 2015, on the Harbor Commission;

• Postponed the executive session to negotiate the police contract because the union’s documents were not ready.

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