Public hearing tonight: Proposal would allow dwelling units in detached structures

Staff Photo

January 4, 2021 by Carol Britton Meyer

A citizen's petition that would allow accessory dwelling units in separate, detached structures on the same lot as the principal dwelling is among the proposed amendments to the town's zoning by-law for consideration at the April 26 Town Meeting.

The hearing process opens tonight, Jan. 4, during a Planning Board discussion of four proposed amendments to the zoning by-law that begins at 8 p.m.

Remote meeting information:

  • Join Zoom meeting:
  • Call-in number: (929) 205-6099; Meeting ID: 837 6387 5754; Passcode: 064265

This citizen's petition was submitted to the town by Fort Hill Street residents Ray and Jennifer Estes and signed by 15 other residents besides themselves.

This proposed change is patterned after the 2018 Town Meeting-approved amendment that allows accessory dwelling units (ADU), often known as in-law apartments, in primary dwellings with a special permit, with certain criteria in place. Occupancy of the accessory unit is limited to family members or a caregiver.

The idea behind both the approved amendment and the proposed by-law change is in part to allow more flexibility for families wishing to remain in Hingham but who are finding it difficult in the current economic climate that includes high home prices and rising taxes.

Ray Estes told the Hingham Anchor said this current proposal has been discussed with planning board members in the past couple of years "in the hopes of trying to pursue it."

He explained that prior to the passage of the 2018 Town Meeting amendment, a study group considered the proposal and "determined there was a growing need in town, and that this change would provide additional housing opportunities for family members, caregivers, adult children with difficulties, and others in different circumstances."

Estes recalls that during the initial ADU discussions, the idea of also allowing accessory dwelling units in detached structures was a topic of conversation, but that taking it slowly by first considering only ADUs in principal dwellings was thought to be the best route to take -- and to see how it went from there.

"There has since been more discussion about the shortage of [affordable] housing during master plan discussions over the past 1-1/2 years, and [the currently proposed type of] ADU was a topic of discussion," Estes said.

The timing seems right, he continued. "We have a separate cottage at the back of our property that we would like to use for our family, but we can't under the current by-law. This isn't just a matter of self-interest, but an opportunity to benefit the entire community, so it made sense to pursue it."

In talking with other residents, including ones involved in the original push to pass the ADUs in primary dwellings by-law change, Estes has met with a good deal of support.

He said passage of this proposed by-law amendment would also provide a mechanism for those who already have unpermitted ADUs in separate dwellings to rectify the situation though the town permitting process.

Estes also noted that there are "hundreds and hundreds" of separate structures around town -- including carriage houses, barns, and garages -- that would fall into this category if property owners wished to pursue the current ADU option.

"This isn't reinventing the wheel," he said. "It's really taking the existing ADU by-law and marking it up a bit to extend it to a separate structure -- with the same family restriction and permitting requirements in place for the most part."

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