The RTM on Monday night voted in favor opting-out of the model state ordinance on Accessory Dwelling Units or “ADUs” for short.
About half of the towns in CT have already chosen to opt out.
In fact, all the WestCOG towns in Greenwich’s region have voted to opt out, except for Newtown.
P&Z director Katie DeLuca said the state ADU language restricted parking to no more than 1 space for a studio or one bedroom, and no more than 2 spaces for each unit with 2+ bedrooms.
Greenwich’s existing parking requirements are based on bedroom count. That means they are higher than required by the state law on ADUs.
She said parts of town are densely developed and have narrow streets, so having more cars parked on-site lessens traffic congestion and increases safety.
DeLuca said the income limit to qualify for an ADU designated affordable under the town’s current reg is about $63,000, and the corresponding maximum rent is almost $1,500.
The town currently has 14 of these ADU units, and 10 count toward the 10% affordable housing requirement from the state.
The town also has a requirement that the property owner live in either the main house or the ADU.
“If you don’t opt out, it would be legal for one to create what is considered a two-family dwelling per the building code and rent them both out at whatever the market would bear,” DeLuca said.
P&Z commission chair Margarita Alban said the town’s ADU regulation can be revised in the future.
Zoning regs have been changed on request of an individual or group of individuals multiple times. In fact, the ADU reg has been changed about 9 times since it was first written in 1981.
She clarified that the deed restriction was not for seniors, only for the units deemed affordable.
“We only do that so that we qualify for the 10% goal on affordable housing,” she said.
Alban said the state language prohibited affordability requirements.
“That’s one of the reasons we didn’t want to go with the state law. We think we have to further affordable options.”
“We know that a lot of people may be making close to 100% of Area Median Income, but can’t afford to live here, and we have raised that as a problem that we have to solve. But the most important problem first, is we have a vulnerable community that lives below the poverty line and may not have decent housing.”
She said those residents come first.
Another reason there aren’t more ADUs already is because of challenges meeting building code.
Alban said people with illegal apartments who are given a chance to get into compliance by creating an affordable unit, are often unable to meet the code requirements.
“You know a lot of people died in New York City because of the Ida flooding, because of illegal basement units,” she said. “We don’t want to do that.”
Greenwich resident Nick Abbott testified that it was in the best interest of the town to vote against the resolution to opt-out.
He said Greenwich’s existing policy was a bad one.
“For one, it’s illegal for me to live in an accessory apartment in Greenwich,” Mr. Abbott said. “It’s also illegal for property owners to rent accessory apartments to who they want to.”
He said that in 40 years the town had added fewer than 100 of these units.
Mr. Abbott said the town should want to increase the supply of housing, and that ADU’s do not alter the architecture of neighborhoods.
Indeed, Peter Berg, chair of the Land Use committee, described ADUs as “invisible.”
Mr. Abbott said Greenwich’s existing ordinance was flagrantly illegal based on the state and federal Fair Housing Acts.
“Someone suing Greenwich – even if they just recover just $1.00, which they would recover a lot more than that – would also recover all of their fees and costs, costing the town hundreds of thousands of dollars and forcing a change to the policy.”
Mr. Abbott’s mother, Mareta Hamre said Greenwich’s ADU policy was outdated, restrictive and prevented residents from using their own property to provide the kind of housing the town POCD says is desired.
She said she would consider inviting a friend to live in part of her house if she could create a separate kitchen for him, for privacy reasons.
“Our zoning laws prevent me from doing that unless I get special permission, certify every year that I have someone over the age of 62 living there, and deed restrict our property so that if I sell my house, any future owner also has to make that certification every year, thereby reducing my property’s value,” she said.
Brooks Harris, Chair of the RTM Finance Committee and a member of the Affordable Housing Trust, saw the situation from a different perspective.
He said that the state language on ADUs would turn all single family homes outside R6 into two-family dwellings.
(The R6 zone already allows two-family dwellings as of right. A two-family conversion does not have to come before the P&Z commission. See: Next for the Wrecking Ball: Two-Bedroom Single Family House in Byram)
Mr. Harris said a property owner could create an additional unit in their garage or build a separate building.
“And if you put a full kitchen in there, then they rent it out to a different family. And if you have no restrictions on that, then your single family zoning is not going to be single family any more. It’s going to be multi-family.”
Mr. Harris praised the experience and the judgement of the town’s legal department.
“I stand with our legal department and support opting out of this legal provision,” he added.
Town Attorney Aamina Ahmad has told the L&R committee that the town attorney’s office had found that Greenwich’s ordinance did not run afoul of the Fair Housing acts, as stated in the brief submitted by Mr. Abbott.
Also, at last week’s Land Use committee meeting, Ms Ahmad said that cases in Cromwell and the Town of Fairfield were litigated by the law firm Mr. Abbott is associated with, but that the circumstances in those cases were unlike Greenwich’s.
In Cromwell a jury hit the town with $5 million in punitive damages for blocking a group home.
“There was a very egregious situation that occurred in Fairfield where the municipality tried to prevent housing for people with mental disabilities,” Ms Ahmad said on Sept 12. “It was a very egregious situation where town officials personally waged a campaign against a group home for people with disabilities.”
Further, Ms Ahmad the language of Mr. Abbott’s brief as troubling.
“When our office in the Law Dept sees language like that it’s very troubling because it almost implies that the individual or group making that kind of reference is getting ready to challenge us on our regulations.”
On a separate note, Ms Ahmad said that if the RTM were to vote against opting out, there was nothing to prevent the state legislature to amend state statute going forward.
Scott Kalb said he planned to vote in favor of the opt out, but that corrective actions needed to be taken in future because Greenwich’s current regulation had “a dampening effect on ADU construction and rental activity.”
Mr. Kalb said the town ADU regulation was more restrictive than the state statute, impacted individual rights and deterred the building of more ADUs.
“You wouldn’t be able to rent that property to teachers, public servants, store workers or other working people in our town that maybe you know, who need housing but maybe can’t afford it, because they would not qualify for affordable housing. You could potentially risk lowering the value of your property due to the deed restriction requirement.”
A 2/3 vote was required for the resolution to carry.
The RTM voted in favor of the opt out.
163 in favor; 22 opposed; 12 abstentions