Opinion: Accessory Dwelling Units – Article 29

Mark Cullings

April 18, 2023 by Mark Cullings

“I think ADUs are good for all communities.” – Michael Clancy, Hingham Building Commissioner.

Accessory Dwelling units (ADUs) are small living units typically known as in-law apartments. They’ve grown in popularity across the country as communities wrestle with the complexities of managing housing stock. In Massachusetts, half of our cities and towns have adopted them, up from a third just since 2014.

Hingham has permitted ADUs contained within the primary residence since 2018. Article 29, if passed at Town Meeting, will allow a limited number of ADUs to also be constructed in detached structures provided property owners comply with rigorous requirements. I support this expansion of the bylaw and urge others to join me.

Hingham, with the efforts of its administrative staff, two formally appointed study committees and extensive discussions by our Planning Board, has dug as deeply into the consequences of adopting detached ADUs as any issue I’ve been familiar with – aside from the water company acquisition. Passing this bylaw is not a panacea for either affordable housing or diversity. It doesn’t pretend to be. But it certainly is another tool in a property owner’s toolbox, one that might allow a homeowner to remain in a beloved property or have a caregiver nearby. It is a step towards attaining some of the housing goals we all seek.

Building Commissioner Clancy testified before the Planning Board a few weeks ago and assured members and the public that his department has had no difficulties administering or enforcing the current ADU bylaw. He said that in the 10 years he’s been in Hingham he’s had to take action in only three cases regarding improper use of a dwelling.

In response to requests for information about the experiences other communities have had with ADUs, a good deal has been provided. None contradicts Commissioner Clancy’s opinion and experience. Negative experiences would’ve become lead stories, and the absence of them is a powerful signal of affirmation.

After nearly 10 years of involvement in this issue, born of a concern over property owners’ rights, we stand able to join the other cities and towns in Massachusetts allowing detached ADUs. These include many of Hingham’s often referenced “benchmark communities”: Cohasset, Concord, Lexington, Norwell, Wellesley and Weston all allow them. Each, undoubtedly, has dealt with the same kinds of objections critics here have voiced, including changing the character of the town, difficulty of enforcement, increased housing density and, strangely, the expense of building one. Wellesley, which enacted its bylaw last year, spent an entire town meeting session – three-plus hours – debating it and then passed it by an overwhelming margin. I hope we can do something similar in less time that it took our friends there.

There is an abundance of information about this issue available and an excellent summary in the Warrant. Hingham has a long history of making good decisions, and I’m confident we will in this case, too.

Mark Cullings
44 Spring St.
Hingham, MA 02043

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