Williamstown zoning tweak aims to expand housing options

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Efforts to create new housing options in Williamstown will be described at a public session next month.

Proposed changes to the town's zoning bylaw are designed to diversify Williamstown's housing stock and to attract younger families and professionals.

To achieve that, the Planning Board hopes to allow homeowners to split their properties into a two-family structure or to add an unattached accessory dwelling.

The change, reviewed Tuesday by the board, is seen as a way to provide smaller and more affordable housing that might attract young professionals like teachers, nurses, tradespeople, police officers and others.

Board member Stephanie Boyd reviewed the proposed changes Tuesday and sought to clarify aspects of the existing bylaw that had caused confusion in previous discussions.

According to Boyd's presentation, there is no current requirement that an owner occupies the residential property. That had been a point of contention at the board's last discussion.

Boyd said accessory dwellings have been allowed in Williamstown since 2012. Since then, four accessory units have been built. They are permitted in existing structures and in outbuildings, as long as the property conforms to current zoning.

The size of such dwellings is limited to 900 square feet, and three would be allowed, if the property was conforming and big enough to allow for the required setbacks.

She noted that several neighborhoods in the Cole Avenue/Arnold Street areas are too dense to allow for accessory buildings.

Current zoning also allows for the construction of new two-family structures in residential zones, Boyd said.

The proposed bylaw changes would allow for the construction of two-family homes as new construction or as a change to a single-family structure. It would also allow for the construction of a new accessory dwelling on the property. Such projects would require a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals on a nonconforming property.

The size of the second unit in an existing building or a detached unit would not exceed 900 square feet, or one-third the floor area of the principal dwelling, whichever is larger, not to exceed 1,200 square feet.

A detached accessory dwelling unit would require one off-street parking spot.

Still under discussion is whether to allow a property owner to divide a single family home into a two-family, and still be able to build a detached accessory dwelling unit on the property. Some have suggested limiting that to one or the other, but not both.

The board set the information session for Jan. 23, in a place not yet determined.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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