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Planning Board talks accessory dwelling units

The Planning Board held a public forum to discuss the progress, as well as hear feedback on a draft bylaw that would allow for the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on residential properties on Tuesday evening.

The working draft of the bylaw recognizes two types of ADUs. The first being an attached ADU, which adds “gross floor area to the principal dwelling”, and the second being an existing detached ADU, which is separate from the principal dwelling, and is a minimum of 350 square feet. 

It also states that the purpose of allowing ADUs in the town is “to increase the supply of housing and the diversity of housing options, in response to demographic changes such as smaller households and older households.”

According to mass.gov, the Census reports that in the last 30 years, the number of people per household has significantly decreased, yet the number of housing units being built continues to rise, resulting in higher tax rates and escalating the issue of affordable housing. By allowing property owners to build ADUs, it would give them additional income, and create affordable living situations for family members who need support or assistance. 

ADUs are illegal in many communities, including Marblehead due to basic zoning restrictions on the number of units allowed per lot. The working draft zoning amendment would allow property owners to lawfully build ADUs. 

The draft also states that allowing ADUs would help to stabilize property values, character of the neighborhood, as well as “maximize privacy, dignity, and independent living among family members preserving bonds.”

Prior to this meeting, there was a public forum held back in June centering around the same ADU proposal. Board member Robert Schaeffner noted that the summer forum did not generate a large amount of interest and feedback, but hoped that this meeting would garner more interest from the public as the draft added more information in recent months. 

During the forum, Schaeffner stated that the draft is “without question, a work in progress”, but highlighted several key components of the current draft in a powerpoint. 

Under the current draft, only one ADU can be built per each principal dwelling unit on the property. Separate sales of the ADU would be prohibited as well as short-term rentals, such as Airbnbs. 

Research for the draft was done by studying other ADU laws in surrounding communities. The presentation stated that in the last three years, only 2.5 ADU’s were being built on average per year in the Boston area. In those three years, Swampscott had three ADUs built, Ipswich had seven, and Peabody had 10. 

After the presentation, the board opened the meeting up for questions from those attending the virtual meeting. The vast majority of those who spoke were in favor of the proposal, but cited questions or concerns regarding parking, water and sewer, taxes, and cost of living. 

Towards the end of the forum, Schaeffner said that the draft will continue to be worked on through January, and a final draft will be finalized between the beginning of the new year, and May, when the proposal will be voted on in Town Meeting.