Revised accessory apartment bylaw aims to address housing shortage in Deerfield

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 03-16-2023 7:25 PM

DEERFIELD — After February’s review, the Planning Board approved its accessory dwelling unit bylaw revisions for the Annual Town Meeting warrant, pending town counsel’s comments and potential edits regarding an appeals process.

The revised bylaw would allow accessory apartments to be created by right if attached to an existing structure and by special permit for an accessory dwelling detached from the lot’s primary building. The previous bylaw required a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals to build any kind of accessory apartment.

Planning Board member Kathy Sylvester said the board’s goals in revising these bylaws are to encourage more residents to age in their community by renting accessory dwelling units with family, allow people to create units for family caretakers and create additional sources of income.

While no changes were made at the March 6 meeting, the Planning Board opted to have town counsel review the bylaw following comments from Zoning Board of Appeals member Bob Decker, who wanted clarity on the appeal process if a resident were to be denied a special permit.

“If somebody applies for the detached structure and the Planning Board turns it down, what is the appeal process?” he asked. “That should be made clear up front.”

Planning Board member Emily Gaylord said there is value in informing residents of what the process looks like and ensuring that applicants know the requirements going into an application.

“There is an argument for laying out what happens,” Gaylord said. “It’s helpful for folks to know what hits our board and what hits the ZBA up front.”

Sylvester and Vice Chair Denise Mason added that the Planning Board can always revise the bylaws again if residents find they are having trouble meeting special permit requirements and are unable to secure a variance from the ZBA.

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“This is the next best attempt at addressing the situation,” Mason said, referring to the fact that Deerfield’s previous accessory dwelling bylaws expired in 2009 and the town is continuing to face an affordable housing shortage.

Several residents spoke up in support of the bylaws on Monday, with Pam Predmore saying she hears a huge need for housing in the community through her role on the ad hoc Senior Housing Committee.

“I applaud your plans for this and I hope this passes because I certainly see the need,” Predmore said. “There’s so many reasons why this option is needed, not the least of which is that a lot of people … could rent a place in town.”

Mark Brennan, who is chair of the Capital Improvements Committee, said the accessory dwelling unit bylaw would encourage building in town, while keeping the “look and feel” of Deerfield. He noted, however, that a lot of people in town have non-conforming lots — often with plenty of land, but tight setbacks — and that could trip up people.

“I think this is a great solution for keeping people in their homes and having a sane amount of building,” Brennan said.

With plans to request town counsel’s review of the bylaw, the Planning Board opted to tentatively approve the revisions for the Annual Town Meeting warrant, which will be held on April 24. The article will need a two-thirds majority to pass.

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