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Dalton Town Meeting

Dalton nudges zoning with elders in mind, allowing ‘accessory dwelling units’

Dicken Crane Dalton TM.jpg

Residents of Dalton voted Monday at annual town meeting to allow homeowners to create "accessory dwelling units" on their properties. Here, Dicken Crane speaks to a different warrant article. The meeting was held in the new auditorium at Wahconah Regional High School. 

DALTON — The town of Dalton will let homeowners create a second dwelling unit on their properties, if space allows, to help ease a housing pinch and to provide options for aging residents and their families.

Residents voted 56-31 at annual town meeting Monday to authorize accessory dwelling units, accepting the recommendations of the Select and Planning boards and overcoming concerns from the floor about how the measure might change the town’s character.

“We’re in a housing crisis,” resident Henry Rose told the meeting, gathered in the auditorium at the new Wahconah Regional High School. “People don’t have enough places to live and are at risk of being priced out of their homes.”

The amendment’s stated purpose is to create new housing options, give homeowners a way to provide a separate living space “for family, companionship, security, or service providers” and to enable older people to downsize into smaller quarters on their own lots.

A fourth rationale, the warrant article said, is financial, with the prospect of giving homeowners a way to collect income through rentals. The units can be additions to existing homes, or free-standing housing on the same lot.

An hour of debate revealed that some residents feared the amendment to the town’s zoning could result in more absentee ownership of Dalton properties, by investors interested in short-term rentals.

“I feel this will ‘junk up’ a nice town like Dalton,” said Lisa Turner, of Washington Mountain Road.

A resident of South Street expressed concern that allowing accessory units might change the “dynamic” of the community.

To address concerns about out-of-town ownership and the possible proliferation of short-term rentals, the proposal was amended to specify that properties eligible for the units be owned by Dalton residents.

Zack R. McCain III, vice chair of the Planning Board, said that requirement was considered during development of the proposal over the last several months, but deemed to be hard to enforce.

“I agree that would be nice to have, but it’s not very practical,” he said.

Still, the condition was added ahead of the vote. Unlike most zoning, the measure needed only a majority to vote in favor. That is because the state has eased the two-thirds majority requirement for zoning changes that foster housing development, according to Town Manager Thomas Hutcheson.

McCain said that the creation of new units would still have to comply with zoning setbacks. He estimated that due to lot sizes and shapes, perhaps one third of Dalton properties would be able to erect free-standing units.

“It’s not like every house in Dalton could build one of these,” he said. “It is something we need.”

The warrant article said that accessory units hold the potential to provide “complete independent living facilities for one or more persons. It may take various forms: a detached unit; a unit that is part of an accessory structure, or a unit that is part of an expanded or remodeled primary dwelling.”

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Managing editor for innovation

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.

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