Advisory Committee supports familial requirement in Town Meeting Accessory Dwelling Unit warrant article

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Photo Courtesy of the Town of Hingham

March 24, 2023 By Carol Britton Meyer

In a recent 8 to 6 vote following a lengthy discussion, the Advisory Committee supported the Planning Board’s earlier majority vote to include a familial requirement in the proposed Accessory Dwelling Unit warrant article that will be voted on at the April 24 Town Meeting.

An “accessory dwelling unit” is a second self-contained dwelling unit located either within a single-family dwelling or as a detached structure. Hingham already allows ADUs within single-family dwellings with a familial requirement,  contingent on gaining the necessary town approvals. This would also be the case with detached ADUs.

“We’ve spent a considerable amount of time discussing this article and listening to comments from a number of people, both online [during Zoom meetings] and [in-person] in the meeting room,” AC Chair George Danis said at the beginning of the discussion.

According to the warrant article, the purpose of proposing to allow a limited number — 156 across the entire town — of detached ADUs is to provide accessory dwelling units “without significantly adding to the number of buildings in the town or substantially altering the appearance of the residential property and for the purpose of enabling owners of single-family dwellings to share space and the burdens of homeownership with family members [with diverse housing needs] while also protecting the stability, property values. and residential character of the surrounding neighborhood.”

‘Family member’ defined
For the purposes of the warrant article, the term “family member”  refers to a person who is related to the owner of the principal dwelling by a recognized family relationship, or domestic help and caregivers of the owner of the principal dwelling or the family member occupying the accessory dwelling unit.

The article also states that a single-family dwelling with an accessory dwelling unit “shall not be deemed to be a two-family dwelling.”

Passage of this ADU warrant article would also enable the town to monitor accessory dwelling unit construction for code compliance.

Advisory Committee member Andy McElaney started off the discussion, saying that he has “strong feelings on both sides of this article, but I think there is a point of common agreement that both sides are acting in good faith in expressing their strongly-held views.”

Speaking from his personal perspective, McElaney said that many Hingham residents have “paid a premium to live in a single-family house in a single-family low-density neighborhood and were aware at the time that Hingham zoning only permits one dwelling unit per lot.”

He went on to say that he would be more amenable to a neighbor’s desire for an ADU if it was for the purpose of accommodating an aging parent or a disabled child than he would if the purpose of creating an ADU was to solely enhance the neighbor’s income stream, for example.

How familial requirement would be enforced
Advisory Committee member Lyndsey Kruzer asked how a familial restriction would be enforced if the warrant article passes.

In response, McElaney noted that while enforcement is provided by the building inspector, he doesn’t have enough staff to inspect any potential detached ADUs. “The inspector would rely on complaints from neighbors who are aware of an unlawful ADU — which would require courage — and he would pick it up from there.”

Proposed ADUs would be required to comply with zoning restrictions that already relate to that property. For example, if a lot is zoned for three bedrooms and the current single-family house already has three, creating a one-bedroom ADU would require removal of one of the three bedrooms in the principal dwelling.

Advisory Committee member Nancy MacDonald noted that “there are a lot of illegal ADUs currently in town. It seems to me that [if the ADU warrant article passes] those units should be identified and pulled into that 156 number [maximum amount of ADU units across town that would be allowed].”

Another AC member, Sarah Melia, doesn’t think the familial restriction is fair because if the family member(s)  occupying the ADU were to move on and there were no other family members to replace them, “that would force the unit to stay empty.”

AC member Tina Sherwood said she didn’t understand “why we have this great rush to do this this year without answering all these questions and more, and  without more socialization.”

Smaller and less-expensive housing opportunity
An earlier AC discussion involved a conversation about how some people would like a way to create smaller and less-expensive housing “for people to come to Hingham who otherwise couldn’t afford to and for elderly [or other] citizens to be able to create a small unit on their property to allow someone to remain in town, for family members to take advantage of not needing to buy [an expensive] single-family house lot, or to make it possible for younger families without the [necessary] downpayment to be a part of the community,” AC member Brenda Black said.

Hingham Affordable Housing Trust Chair Jack Falvey said the Trust reviewed six peer towns with ADU experience “and none has reached anywhere near the cap [allowed]. ADUs without a family restriction are widely accepted in towns like us in Massachusetts.”

Accessory Dwelling Unit Study Committee Chair Jennifer Gay Smith noted that ADUs have been studied in this town for many years and are included in Hingham’s Master Plan to help diversify the housing stock.

“We have 17 attached ADU units right now that are helping people age in place, with family members paying rent and not just shoveling snow,” she said. “. . . . What would be the impact from a zoning perspective of whether or not the person [living in an ADU] is related to the person living in the primary dwelling?”

Resident Stephanie Gertz expressed concern that at an earlier meeting, the discussion “sounded like we only want fellow Hinghamites living here. I’m sure no one meant to use exclusionary language — we want Hingham to be diverse and for people to feel comfortable here.”

‘Preserving single-family character’
Planning Board member Gary Tondorf-Dick said that from a zoning perspective, the introduction of a second dwelling unit on a single-family lot “changes the use of the property” and that priority should be set on “preserving the single-family character of our neighborhoods. We’re not looking at who the person [who would live in the ADU] is, but rather at the implications [this would have] on the town’s existing zoning.”

Near the end of the discussion, before the AC vote, member Davalene Cooper moved to amend McElaney’s  recommended motion (to include the familial requirement in the warrant article) in order to remove the familial restriction after stating earlier, “It’s important to note that ADUs are something someone can only do by special permit, and the permitting process would include [opportunities for] the neighbors [to ask questions and share any concerns].”

After further discussion, Cooper’s motion failed to pass. In the subsequent vote on McElaney’s earlier motion, the majority of the AC voted in favor of keeping the familial requirement in place in the warrant article.

Following the meeting, Hingham Unity Council Chair Katie Sutton told the Hingham Anchor that the HUC has been vocally supportive of removing the familial restriction from the ADU warrant article.

“I have been watching this process very closely, and I have attended all of the related Planning Board and Advisory Committee meetings, as well as some of the ADU Study Committee meetings. I was very disappointed that the Advisory Committee majority voted to reject the well-qualified ADU Study Committee’s recommendation that ADUs should be available to all interested renters, and not just family members. The Study Committee’s recommendation was based on over a year of diligence and hearings under the leadership of a former Planning Board chair. Retaining this restriction closes the door on an opportunity for greater housing affordability and, in a town that is 96 percent white, the potential for more racial diversity here in Hingham.”
Town Meeting will have the final say.

For further information about the ADU warrant article, check the Town Meeting warrant that will be mailed to every Hingham household.

2 thoughts on “Advisory Committee supports familial requirement in Town Meeting Accessory Dwelling Unit warrant article”

  1. Wow – you might expect a fair housing lawsuit when and if someone wants to rent their ADU to a nonfamily member and then an inspector shows up and demands to see what? Only by invading a family’s privacy can it be enforced.
    ALSO, single-family zoning has nothing to do with the health, safety, or welfare of a community. SFZ has racial and economic exclusionary roots as outlined in the well-researched book Color of Law which appears no one read.

  2. No one read the Color of Law apparently – Zoning was created in the early 1900s to economically and racially exclude others when covenants and other tools were struck down by the supreme court. This action perpetuates that legacy


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