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Report: Despite opt-outs, most CT towns allow accessory dwelling units

Although more than two-thirds of Connecticut towns opted out of a 2021 law that aimed to streamline the process and regulations around accessory dwelling units, most towns still allow units of this type in some form, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report from advocacy group Desegregate Connecticut provides details into the implementation of the 2021 legislation. The law laid out certain standards for municipalities to allow accessory dwelling units, also known as granny pods, but allowed towns to opt-out by Jan. 1, 2023.

Fifty-four towns did not opt-out and are subject to the state law, and 115 opted out. But, the report notes, many of those that opted out set up their own regulations for the units. The majority of Connecticut towns — 67% — allow accessory dwelling units that at least partially satisfy the state law’s requirements, the report says.

“This is one necessary piece of the policy toolkit to address the housing crisis,” said Pete Harrison, Desegregate CT director.

(Locally, Meriden, Wallingford, Southington and Cheshire all opted out, but only Meriden continues not to allow ADUs, according to the report.)

To read the report, go to https://tinyurl.com/3mu3rbwp.

Accessory dwelling units are built on residential property and are often used for older people who want to live separately but closer to family or caregivers. Housing advocates have touted them as one of many strategies needed to increase Connecticut’s housing stock. The state lacks tens of thousands of units of housing that are affordable and available to its lowest-income renters.

The 2021 state law required towns to allow both attached and detached units without the need for a special hearing before the zoning board. The structure could be up to 1,000 square feet or 30% of the main dwelling unit’s size. The law also banned towns from setting age restrictions or requirements that tenants be related to the person in the main dwelling and prohibited parking requirements of greater than one space per unit.

“It is not an end-all be-all solution, but it is what we call sort of common sense housing reform,” said Samantha Sondik, one of the researchers on the project.

Thirty towns opted out of the statewide requirements but amended their own regulations. Another 29 opted out but have regulations that at least partially meet state standards, according to the report.

A handful of those the report counted as being subject to the state law didn’t confirm that they allowed ADUs, but researchers couldn’t find evidence that the town had gone through the official steps to opt-out, according to the report.

“After the process, two-thirds of CT towns and cities are allowing ADUs more easily because of this law,” Harrison said. “The opt-out clause that got stuck in this was not the best policy. It created confusion at the local level.”

During the last legislative session, lawmakers considered a bill that would have extended the deadline to opt out, but the measure didn’t get through the committee process.

The opt-out clause was added as a compromise into what shaped up to be contentious legislation in 2021. Every Republican member of the House of Representatives as well as several suburban Democrats voted against the bill.

Opponents have said statewide zoning reform infringes on local control and imposes a one-size-fits-all solution on towns. The Desegregate CT report says towns reflected these sentiments in their reasons for opting out.

The themes included: “we don’t want the state telling us what to do,” “our regulations work for us,” and “state regulations don’t work in our community,” the report says.

These objections have come up again in subsequent legislative sessions in opposition to proposals that Desegregate CT pushes. Housing experts say that local zoning restrictions have limited the number of multi-family housing units in Connecticut.

The group plans to do additional research examining some of the obstacles to building accessory dwelling units such as design and construction barriers and cost, said Yi Ming Wu, a researcher with the Regional Plan Association. Desegregate is a program of the association.

For the past three years, Desegregate CT has advocated for laws that would push towns to increase residential density near public transit stations. Legislators showed some support for the measure during the last legislative session, but the full measure didn’t pass.

Harrison said his group will keep pushing for the concept, known as transit-oriented development.

“Of course, we want to see more density and higher zoning in more places,” Harrison said. “We’re going to fight for more.”

This story originally appeared ctmirror.org, the website of The Connecticut Mirror.


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