Opinion: You Should Decide Who Lives in Your ADU

April 18, 2023 By Judy Sneath

When Marie learned that her cancer was back with a vengeance, she was suffering through an acrimonious divorce which forced her to sell her home. Her college-aged sons lived on the west coast. Fortunately, she had a dear friend who lived in Scituate. Marie spent the last year of her life living in her friend’s detached garage apartment. Her friends kept a watchful eye over her, drove her to appointments, and gave her their love.

In Hingham today, this wouldn’t be possible in a single-family home. You may apply for a special permit to build an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) within your home, but the occupants must be your family relations or caregivers of someone in your family.

Article 29 of the Town Meeting warrant extends the special permit for ADUs to detached structures, like a barn, but maintains that family restriction. There is a six-month minimum occupancy requirement to prevent short term rentals, and you the homeowner must also reside on the property.

Alternate article 29 allows you the homeowner to decide who you’d like to have living in your ADU. You may want to open your arms to a friend in need, to a town employee, or to your own adult child. The impact on your lives may be profound or simply practical. The impact on your neighbors would be the same regardless of the familial relationship of the occupants. Both article 29 and the alternate continue to require a special permit for an ADU. There is a cap of 2.5% of the single-family homes in Town that will be allowed ADUs – that very small number could be very important to some among us.

The special permitting process in Hingham is rigorous. Abutters are advised of the hearings. The permitting board applies the set-backs and other zoning by-law requirements and requires reasonable measures to minimize the impact on neighbors. They might restrict the size of windows facing the property line, require landscaping for screening or changes in the design for consistency with the character of the neighborhood. Board of Health approval is also required. With the size of the average household declining, ADUs present little danger to the density of Hingham’s neighborhoods. The Executive Director of the Pioneer Institute, which has studied this issue extensively, concludes, “Accessory units are environmentally smart, limited in their traffic impacts and do precious little to change the character of single-family neighborhoods.”

The concerns I have heard about lifting the family restriction center on: traffic, noise, privacy, and rental income. None of those are driven by the familial relationship of the occupants. With abundant safeguards in place to minimize impact on neighbors, with the homeowner required to occupy either the home or the ADU, there is no reason for the Town, specifically the Building Commissioner, to decide who lives in the ADU (attached or detached) on your property.

Vote yes on alternate article 29 at Town Meeting. Learn more at https://alternate29adu.org.

Judy Sneath is the current chair of the Planning Board and the minority opinion on article 29.

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