Planning Board Sends Workforce Housing Amendment to Town Council

The Planning Board finished revising a proposed Zoning Ordinance amendment relative to workforce housing and voted unanimously to send the document to the Town Council for approval.

The purpose of the amendment is to bring the Town into greater compliance with State law related to workforce housing, and to provide for enhanced housing opportunities throughout town.

Additionally, amending the section related to Conditional Use Permit Criteria is intended to address the influx of variance requests the Zoning Board has seen in the past year for workforce housing projects that aren’t able to achieve project feasibility under the Town’s Zoning Ordinance.

Mike Speltz of 18 Sugarplum Lane, who has regularly attended public hearings on the amendment, recommended at the Board’s July 8 hearing removing language from the section on Conditional Use Permits for multi-family workforce housing describing “projects that are truly supportive of the purpose and objectives of the Inclusionary Housing section.”

“I think the Planning Board will find itself where the Zoning Board was six months ago,” said Speltz, explaining the language created a loophole for workforce housing developers.

The Board agreed to remove the language, and at the Board’s last meeting in June, the amendment was revised to include a paragraph establishing the Planning Board as solely responsible for the interpretation and administration of the section related to workforce housing, including the granting of all related conditional use permits. The amendment adds strength to the Board’s authority in dealing with inclusionary housing approvals, including the granting of conditional use permits, which further addresses Speltz’s concern.

After considering several recommendations from Senior Building Inspector Richard Canuel, the Board also approved adding language that defines accessory dwelling units as not exceeding 40 percent of the living area of the principal dwelling and having no more than two bedrooms, which a Senate bill the State Legislature introduced this year would mandate.

Additionally, the Board approved revisions to the section on small workforce housing developments requiring such developments with three or four dwelling units to have 40 percent open space; and language under the section related to parking for multi-family workforce housing that prohibits parking between the front of the building and the side lot line.

The Board also approved Canuel’s recommendation to add language deeming every accessory dwelling unit in town a workforce housing unit to satisfy the Town’s obligation under State law to provide adequate opportunity for workforce housing.

The added language will support the Town’s justification for complying with the statutory requirement for providing adequate workforce housing, according to Canuel.

Town Planner Cynthia May has said the addition of accessory dwelling units to the ordinance will go a long way toward meeting the Town’s statutory mandate for providing workforce housing, and will provide more flexibility moving forward.

Planning staff anticipates the Council will schedule a first reading of the amendment for its Aug. 17 meeting, with a public hearing on the amendment’s adoption to follow in September.

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