The Glastonbury Town Council is taking another look at the zoning regulations regarding accessory dwelling units, commonly referred to as in-law apartments, in light of new changes to state regulations.
Rebecca Augur, director of Planning & Land Use Services, and representing a working group subcommittee of the council, said that the units, or ADUs, now have a two-step, opt-out process to skirt the state laws, which would include two-thirds majority votes of both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Town Council. The new state law (Public Act 21-29) becomes local law if towns do not opt out by Jan. 1, 2023.
Augur said that the ADUs are an opportunity to add to housing stock, add reduced housing costs for some, and possibly enable some homeowners to stay in their homes longer. The town held an Affordable Housing Committee workshop this past January on removing barriers to accessory units, and the town’s Affordable Housing Plan survey done in 2021 indicated 63% of residents are in favor of ADUs, as they could be a good way to meet housing needs of a variety of people, within existing dwellings.
The new state law allows ADUs to be attached or detached from the main housing unit, and sets a maximum square footage of 30% of the principal dwelling, or 1,000 square feet, whichever is less.
Glastonbury’s current regulations were created in 1983 and were updated in 1991 and again in 2008 and 2019, and have always required a special permit.
Augur said 145 of the existing single family units that have ADUs. Per Assessor’s data, 65 have permitting records.
Main differences between the town’s existing regulations and the new state regulations include that the town requires a permit, does not allow detached units, and has a maximum occupancy of three while the state has no limit.
The working group, Augur said, is considering opting out of the state regulations, but possibly revising some of the regulatory hurdles.
“The working group, right now, is recommending [option] 1b,” she said. “We have talked about several changes to the regulations, but not fully adopting everything. That would require that we still opt-out, with the knowledge that we will be revising the regulations.”
The most important piece that needs to be hammered out, she said, is whether the town will enable detached ADUs or not.
“There’s a bit of a mixed opinion among the working group,” she said, adding that the recommendation is also to revise the maximum occupancy to one family, and the size to 1,000 square feet, and prohibit the use of short-term rentals.
Council members said they were concerned about allowing detached ADUs, and wanted clarification of what codes could still be enforced, including how far a unit could be from the road.
“Does this have any effect on the existing setbacks?” asked councilman Larry Niland. “Especially if it’s as a right, could they build as close to the property line as they want?”
“They would still follow your lot standards,” Augur said. “You’d just have to make those more stringent, to make it more difficult, but you are still able to enforce your existent standards.”
Council member Mary LaChance said she didn’t see the reason to opt-in to the state regulations. Council Chair Tom Gullotta said the main reason for the town to keep its control of the regulations would be to maintain a process where neighbors could ask questions.
“I think that is the general sentiment amongst the subcommittee,” Gullotta said. “I think the big issue is... enabling a neighbor, if someone wants to put in an accessory apartment, is to be able to say, ‘Why, what, where?’ and have the issue be mediated if everyone is not on the same page.”
Gullotta said the consensus of the council was that they proceed with the opt-out option.
“I think you’ve got your direction,” he said.