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Proposal for more rental housing in Stockbridge gains traction

Cars parked on Main Street in Stockbridge

A proposed bylaw aimed at attracting year-round residents to rental units in Stockbridge is winning support from town planners and some residents.

STOCKBRIDGE — A proposed bylaw aimed at attracting year-round residents to rental units in the town is winning support from town planners and some residents.

The proposal developed by Select Board Chairman Patrick White would allow property owners to add apartments known as “accessory dwelling units.” The desired result: A boost to the declining year-round population. Another benefit: A new source of longer-term rental income for homeowners.

The Select Board sent the bylaw draft to the Planning Board for a well-attended public hearing on Tuesday night.

“My intent was to foster residential ownership year-round, to increase affordability for people who live here,” White emphasized. Otherwise, he cautioned, the town will lack volunteers for the fire department or for town government boards.

During public comment, resident Peter Strauss voiced support, but suggested a “disconnect” between the proposal’s wording and goal of providing long-term rentals for people of modest means. “There’s nowhere in the bylaw indicating that preference, or any kind of limitation on short-term rentals.”

Strauss proposed adding “long-term” to the bylaw draft. But he also urged making accessory apartment rentals for homeowners available not only for permanent residents but also for second-home owners.

More than half of the town’s properties are owned by nonresidents, according to the assessor’s office. The average single-family home sale price is around $600,000.

“I can’t think of any reason why a second-home owner should not be able to have an accessory dwelling unit that is for a long-term rental,” Strauss said.

White responded that his goal is to augment income for residents by making on-premises apartments available for either long-term or short-term rentals, as long as the second-home property is owner-occupied during those rentals of 30 days or less. “We don’t want two short-term rentals on a property at the same time,” he said.

Town Counsel Donna Brewer confirmed that the language of the draft bylaw aligns with White’s intentions.

“It’s a good way to address the shortage of affordable housing issue in town,” said Mark Mills, a member of the town’s Affordable Housing Trust. He called the bylaw proposal “an incentive to make an investment and create another unit of workforce housing at probably a much lower cost” compared to a developer’s project.

“I’m a big supporter of ADUs as a form of microhousing to support so many of the town’s goals,” resident Patty Caya said. But she voiced strong opposition to the current language of the proposal under discussion and urged changes to avoid “a climate of confusion” and avoid “discriminatory” restrictions against seasonal residents.

Caya urged adoption of proposed language by Planning Board member Wayne Slosek, allowing one accessory dwelling rental at a time on a property for all homeowners, whether they are year-round or seasonal.

Planning Board Chair Kate Fletcher expressed support for Slosek’s suggestion, also adding that the new bylaw should make it clear that the town’s existing bylaws remain in force.

The board approved Fletcher’s motion to resume the public hearing at 6:30 p.m. March 21. If and when approved, any town bylaw requires majority approval from registered voters at the annual town meeting.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com.

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