Accessory Dwelling Units ~ Article 22 on the Annual Town Meeting Warrant

The Warrant for Annual Town Meeting arrived in many residents’ mailboxes this week, and the Planning Board urges support for Article 22. This is a revised version of the article on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) that narrowly failed to gain the necessary two-thirds majority at the fall Special Town Meeting.

The new version includes provision for a site plan review process for detached ADUs, with notice given to the neighbors so that they could attend and comment in a public meeting. The review would be conducted by the Planning Board, which already conducts site plan reviews on commercial properties and is familiar with residential layouts from its subdivision work. This review would allow specific proposals to be examined in the context of their site and surroundings, as well as checked for compliance with the constraints on placement and design that are written into the proposed bylaw, and there would be the potential for adjustments or conditions to be negotiated if particular circumstances warranted it.

The Board had initially hoped to make such detached units ‘by right’ so that an applicant whose proposal met all the standards could proceed straight to a building permit, because it recognizes that a project of this type involves many hurdles for a homeowner. However, it recognizes that some people feel it is important for abutters to have input into the process.

Other changes from the fall Special Town Meeting version include a rewritten and clarified purpose section, a reference to how ADUs on nonconforming properties will be handled, and an increased minimum setback for a detached unit from the rear lot line to 20 feet.

Other features of the proposed bylaw amendment (which have not changed) are: to cap the size of all ADUs at 900 square feet (or 1,000 sq ft with specified universal design or energy efficiency features); to reduce the number of required parking spaces for an ADU from 2 to 1; to restrict a detached unit to 1 ½ stories and 25 feet in height, set further back than the main house and a minimum of 15 feet from side lot lines; and to restrict the orientation of entrance doors and upper floor windows in detached units.

This bylaw amendment is the product of nearly two years’ work by the Planning Board and staff. The Board wants to thank all the residents who attended our public forum, public hearings and other workshop sessions and gave us thoughtful comments. Some of these have been from the perspective of owners who may be interested in having an ADU on their property and others from the perspective of abutting neighbors, and the Board has tried to find the right balance. The Comprehensive Plan, Housing Study, the Council on Aging’s Needs Study and other sources about demographic change and under-served housing needs, and experience with Bedford’s existing accessory apartments and reports about detached units in other towns all helped to inform the bylaw.

Background material is available on the Planning page of the town’s website, and we encourage people to become familiar with it.

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