MERIDEN — The City Council will take up a resolution to opt out of a 2021 state law that established accessory dwelling units as a use-of-right for single family homeowners.
The council’s Economic Development, Housing and Zoning Committee held a hearing on the proposed opt-out on Tuesday night and later that night voted unanimously to refer the resolution to the full council.
During the hearing, City Planning Director Paul Dickson explained his department’s rationale for the proposed opt out, saying it would enable local officials to craft regulations specific to the city.
The few public speakers who addressed the EDHZ Committee on Tuesday spoke in favor of opting out of the state law, Public Act 21-29. Some of the speakers aired concerns related to safety and traffic congestion in single-family residential areas.
Public Act 21-29 established as a homeowner’s use-of-right, the conversion of a portion of residences — including no more than 30% of a primary residence, or other structures, like detached garages — into accessory dwelling units. While the law contains the language of universal statewide regulations, it also includes a provision for local municipalities to opt out of the regulations, so long as the municipalities either adopt their own or amend existing regulations before January 1, 2023.
Dickson gave the committee a presentation during which he described accessory dwelling units and outlined where potential conflicts between the local and state regulations may arise.
He said if the city did not opt out, “the only time” local officials would be able to revise local regulations would be when state legislators change the law.
“That would hinder Meriden’s ability to adapt our regulations when we see fit, if we see any issues come up,” Dickson said.
Dickson outlined some of the potential challenges with the state regulations, noting that the city under those requirements would “have to designate locations and provide at least one accessory dwelling as a right on each lot that contains a single family dwelling unit.”
That raises the potential to have additional residential units in non-conforming residential areas, Dickson explained, including ones “that could potentially be in industrial areas, commercial areas that are looking to be redeveloped.”
The regulations could establish further residential uses in areas identified through the city’s own Plan of Conservation and Development for commercial and industrial development in the city. The state regulations also reference local municipal standards for single family dwellings.
But, Dickson noted, the city does not currently regulate what single-family dwellings must look like. For example, local regulations do not dictate where a single-family home’s front entrance must be located.
“These are design considerations that we would not be able to put into effect if we strictly went wholesale with Public Act 21-29,” Dickson said.
He said a lot of the items addressed in the state regulations “are good,” adding that overall it is a start-up point for which the city can model its own regulations to be “more Meriden centric.”
Another potential conflict between the current local and state regulations is the timeline for issuing land-use permits.
“The goal isn’t to say no accessory apartment units or accessory dwelling units,” Dickson said. “It’s to consider which zones they should be applicable in and how they’re integrated into those zones.”
Dickson, during his presentation, noted some of the benefits of allowing accessory dwelling units. Those benefits include increased housing affordability, a wide range of housing options, increases in local revenues derived from permits and residential taxes, as well as environmental benefits by reducing the need for new housing construction.
EDHZ Committee chairman Michael Rohde asked Dickson about the timeline for local officials to develop Meriden-specific regulations and to bring them to the City Council for approval.
“Ideally I would like to have that done within three months,” Dickson said in response. Those regulations would be developed through a potential series of working sessions with both the Planning Commission and EDHZ Committee, the planning director added.
Two of the three committee members who attended the meeting spoke favorably about opting out.
City Councilor Dan Brunet explained he had concerns about the state regulations, in particular how they might conflict with rear lot development and possibly take the character out of certain neighborhoods.
“I don’t want to see them tampered with too much,” Brunet said, saying he’s in favor of opting out.
Rohde said he thinks it’s in the city’s best interest to customize its own approach.
“It sounds like we’ve got a good process to do that and tailor it to these deeds,” Rohde said. “I would certainly be in favor of opting out too.”
Statewide advocates who had backed the legislation described it as a means to allow more diverse housing options across Connecticut. Meriden’s existing regulations on accessory dwellings only allow them to be located in residences built before 1946, through special permitting.
Meriden resident Dan Zaborowski spoke in support of the opt-out to craft local regulations. He noted the city’s large population of senior homeowners.
“You have a lot of elderly people who will not be able to afford their homes anymore. So where do they go?” Zaborowski said, adding he would hate to see those residents leave.
Accessory dwellings could offer such residents the ability to downsize and allow younger family members to relocate into those residences.
“It’s a win-win situation for the city too, because now you’ve created more of a tax base,” Zaborowski said. “... This is something I think is realistic. It’s going to happen.”