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In close vote, City Council streamlines process
After more than a year of deliberation, the Beacon City Council narrowly approved amendments to the zoning code on Monday (Sept. 19) that will simplify the process for creating “accessory dwelling unit” apartments.
The vote was 4-3, with Dan Aymar-Blair, Justice McCray and Paloma Wake in the negative.
The changes will make it easier for city residents to create apartments that are either add-ons or new structures on single-family lots. The apartments may range between 200 and 1,000 square feet, although the Planning Board could approve larger apartments in some existing accessory buildings.
Only one accessory apartment will be permitted per lot. The owner of the property has to live on-site, and the units cannot be used for short-term rentals such as those booked through Airbnb.
The discussion began last year after Mayor Lee Kyriacou suggested streamlining the lengthy Planning Board review to encourage homeowners to create small, affordable apartments on their properties. With the change, the Planning Board will only review proposals for accessory dwelling units that are separate from an existing single-family home or change the footprint of the home. Otherwise, the building inspector can approve proposals.
The amendments also require applicants to provide an off-street parking space, although the Planning Board can waive the requirement.
Accessory dwelling units are the only affordable housing option that can be built in single-family zones, which comprise the vast majority of land in the city. However, only 29 have been created since the city began allowing them in 1989.
The council debated whether a simplified review process would significantly increase affordable housing in Beacon, as has happened in other municipalities. Some council members wanted rent regulations to ensure affordability, while others worried about the effect of bringing more dwellings and cars into residential neighborhoods.
The vote on Monday came after a public hearing in which feedback from residents was mixed. During a previous hearing, in August, two speakers were skeptical that accessory dwelling units would make a dent in the city’s shortage of affordable housing.
Before voting, Council Member George Mansfield said he supports the intent of the changes but was concerned that the city lacks the resources to enforce the requirements of owner occupancy and no short-term rentals.
Council Member Wren Longno acknowledged that the amendments would reduce the burden on the Planning Board, and said accessory dwelling units “make density possible without disposing of the single-family home look and feel that we like of our neighborhoods.”
Kyriacou reasoned that because household sizes are declining, the single-family zoning district is losing density. “If your house is exactly the same size and the size of the family keeps going down,” adding accessory dwelling units “doesn’t change the density of a neighborhood,” he said. “It restores it to what it was a generation ago.”
Aymar-Blair said he could only support the amendments if “we knew for sure that we were creating affordable housing, and we do not.”