Letter: Housing articles important to Williamstown
To the editor:
At town meeting, Williamstown voters will be considering two warrant articles related to housing. Article No. 32 will allow homeowners to convert single-unit homes to two-unit homes. Currently, property owners are permitted to construct new two-unit homes by right and to convert single-unit homes by special permit and with restrictions. This article removes the special permit requirement and the restrictions.
Article No. 33 will allow homeowners to add a detached accessory dwelling unit to their property by-right if the lot conforms to dimensional requirements. Current zoning rules allow homeowners to construct detached housing units only in existing buildings, via a special permit and the public hearing process managed by the Zoning Board of Appeals. In the six years since these units have been allowed, three have been constructed.
These changes represent an effort to remove restrictions that hinder the development of moderately priced homes. Since related clauses in the zoning bylaws define how residential properties can be developed to protect both the integrity of the neighborhood and the rights of the property owners, by-right zoning is appropriate. In the General Residence Zone (GR), where the vast majority of Williamstown homes exist, no more than 20 percent of the lot area can be used for structures (barn, garage, shed, house, etc.). As a result, on a standard 10,000-square-foot lot, the total footprint of all buildings can't exceed 2,000 square feet. Buildings cannot be constructed within 15 feet of the side or rear boundary, and 20 feet of the street line.
Many lots in Williamstown are very large, about 60 percent of the lots in GR are greater than twice the minimum size and can easily accommodate an additional housing unit. On the other hand, about 40 percent of the lots are non-conforming and would therefore require ZBA approval. The small percentage of very small lots will not meet the minimum standards set out in the bylaws so neighborhood overcrowding is very unlikely.
While these bylaw amendments are not a panacea for the lack of reasonably priced homes in Williamstown, they represent an important step forward in allowing the development of this needed housing type. Accessory dwelling units can provide additional revenue for fixed-income homeowners and allow seniors to stay in their homes longer, they are considered to be an ecofriendly, and they provide a low-impact housing solution for built-out communities. Experiences in other communities suggest that about 10 units would be added to our housing stock with the endorsement of these amendments.
The writer is a member of the Planning Board, but the letter has not been endorsed by the Planning Board.
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