MERIDEN — Officials have scheduled a public hearing Tuesday, Aug. 16, to discuss a proposed City Council resolution to opt out of a 2021 state law that relaxed restrictions on the creation of accessory apartments in municipalities across Connecticut.
The law, Public Act 21-29, eased restrictions for owners of single-family residences seeking to convert a portion of those residences into accessory apartments, which can occupy up to 30% of a primary residence, or to convert detached building units, like garages, into such units.
In addition to permitting accessory apartments without requiring local homeowners to seek special permission from municipal authorities, the law does allow cities and towns to opt out of the state regulations.
Last fall, Southington town officials voted to opt out of those same regulations. Southington currently allows in-law apartments, requiring property owners to obtain special permission from town planning officials, according to previous Record-Journal reports.
In Meriden, officials have proposed opting out of the state law for the purpose of crafting new regulations on accessory apartments, according to a resolution that was referred to the council’s Economic Development Housing and Zoning Committee.
Meriden Planning Director Paul Dickson, in an email to the Record-Journal, explained the state law “requires that municipalities designate locations or zoning districts within the municipality in which accessory apartments are allowed.”
Dickson wrote the statute contains other limitations and requirements around accessory dwellings.
“The intention of the opt-out is to allow the City to create a regulation specific to Meriden instead of adopting the state's language wholesale,” Dickson wrote.
Dickson explained the next step will be to work with the city’s Planning Commission and with the City Council, which has zoning authority, according to the city’s code of ordinances, to create proposed regulations.
“The regulation will be discussed at meetings, and we will gather input before proposing a final regulation,” Dickson explained. “The final proposed regulation will go through the normal process of a zoning regulation amendment, including a referral to the Planning Commission for a finding of consistency with the Plan of Conservation and Development and a public hearing before the Economic Development, Housing & Zoning Committee.”
The nonprofit coalition Desegregate CT backed the passage of the accessory apartments regulations. State lawmakers’ vote to approve the measure was largely across party lines — with the majority of Democrats supporting the measure and Republican lawmakers opposing it.
Peter Harrison, Desegregate CT’s director, described the legislation as a way to start revising the state’s zoning regulations to enable more diverse housing options across the state. Harrison noted it had been decades since the state substantially reformed its zoning regulations.
Desegregate CT, in addition to backing the legislation, has also compiled data into an interactive map showing the types of housing permitted by each municipality. For example, according to the map, Meriden’s current regulations only allow accessory dwellings to be established in buildings built before 1946, so long as homeowners obtain special permits.
Harrison said across Connecticut, 90% of land that is zoned as residential only permits single family housing on large lots.
“”Our cities have multi-family housing. Our rural communities do not — that’s been a big driver of the conversation,” Harrison said.
Meriden City Councilor Bruce A. Fontanella is receptive to the idea of opening up the availability of single family homes with additional residences, “so people can have a place to live.”
Fontanella, who practices elder law, said he is familiar with the concerns faced by seniors who can’t afford to move into senior housing and other facilities, and may opt to move in with their children, due to affordability.
But Fontanella is concerned about the broader potential negative impacts of converting single-family homes into multi-family homes, noting that could negatively impact zoning.
Councilor Bob Williams Jr. said he is not opposed to the proposal. But he does feel any proposal should be vetted through planning and zoning.
“Safety is a top priority,” Williams said.
City Councilor Michael Rohde said he would be in favor of reasonable regulations to allow such dwellings. He noted there are particulars that would need to be addressed — for example, plumbing, electrical, and other building components.
But, Rohde noted, such housing is “pretty common.”
“It’s a nice addition for families who have a family member who needs that type of dwelling,” Rohde said, adding he doesn’t believe modifying residences as such would reduce the values of those properties.