50 Greenfield residents request amendment to recently updated accessory dwelling ordinance

Staff Writer
Published: 8/24/2020 6:29:40 PM

GREENFIELD — A petition with the signatures of 50 voters was delivered to the city clerk early Monday morning asking that amendments be made to the city’s Accessory Dwelling Unit, or ADU, ordinance, once again requiring detached structures to acquire a special permit.

Resident Al Norman, who has led the charge against an ordinance that would allow detached apartments “by right,” collected the signatures and delivered them to City Hall.

The proposed amendment makes two changes to the current ordinance approved by City Council earlier this summer. First, it would establish a minimum lot size of three-quarters of an acre to add a second home to a lot, preventing overcrowding; and it would also require a special permit for detached ADUs, which would allow neighbors to comment on the permit and to appeal the granting of one that they opposed.

“Greenfield is currently one of only a handful of communities that allow detached second homes as of right, which only requires a site plan review,” Norman said. “The current ordinance takes away all neighbors’ rights and gives developers no special permit requirement at all.”

The City Council voted in July to allow ADUs, also known as in-law apartments, by right. While many said it will be used simply as a way to keep an aging parent or child with disabilities close by, allowing them some independence, Norman said he and others argue it will overcrowd neighborhoods.

In August 2016, the council passed an ADU ordinance that made it legal for residents to build up to 900-square-foot apartments either inside existing owner-occupied homes as additions, as detached structures or inside existing detached structures, such as garages or carriage houses. However, they needed a special permit to do so, which allowed abutters an opportunity to voice their concerns.

Earlier this year, the council, after reviewing an amendment to the ordinance presented by Precinct 5 Councilor Tim Dolan and Precinct 7 Councilor Otis Wheeler allowing those types of structures to be built “by right,” overwhelmingly approved it. Residents can now build on their property by obtaining a building permit, having a site plan review done by the city’s Planning Board and obtaining a certificate of occupancy when the project is done. They do not need a special permit.

Norman said he and others have no problem with renovating a home to create a unit within it or even using an attached structure, like a garage, to create an ADU. But detached units can invade neighbors’ privacy and encroach upon their properties.

In 2016, former At-Large City Councilor Patrick Devlin, who signed the petition, learned his next-door neighbor at 907 Bernardston Road had applied for a special permit to build an 882-square-foot cottage on her 2.5-acre property. It would have sat 30 feet from his property, overlooking his swimming pool and creating drainage problems.

“I think the city has to really look at each project and consider everything, from the runoff a project might cause for a neighbor to other factors,” he said. “I think anyone with legitimate issues should be able to have a say in what their neighborhood looks like.”

Two detached ADUs have been built in Greenfield since the original ordinance was passed: one on Pleasant Street and one on Holland Avenue. Both are finishing up construction. According to city officials, neither received any complaints. The homeowner who wanted to build adjacent to Devlin withdrew her request for a special permit and never built the ADU.

Wheeler said previously he thinks making ADUs by right serves the public good.

“This will expand the housing stock slowly,” he said. “I have to say, respectfully, it isn’t my business as a neighbor what happens next to me as long as it’s legal. As a society, we agree that there are certain things that are unacceptable, but we can’t decide we don’t like what something looks like on another person’s property.”

Wheeler said there are enough checks and balances to keep ADUs from creating an overcrowding problem. For instance, during a site plan review by the Planning Board, members will consider privacy and how an ADU might adversely affect an abutter.

Norman and other opponents have said the latest ordinance is “a dodge to allow every lot to have two homes on it,” a big one and a small one.

Planning and Development Director Eric Twarog said reviewing the citizen’s petition will be put on the agenda for the next City Council meeting in mid-September. The Planning Board and the council’s Economic Development Committee will each hold public hearings on the proposed changes, and will then make recommendations to the full City Council.

Among those who signed the petition were former Town Councilor Steven Ronhave; former Franklin County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ann Hamilton; Marjorie Reid, whose family owned the former Wilson’s Department Store; and local activist Sandy Thomas and her husband, Dr. Russ Thomas.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.

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