Greenfield’s first Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) plans worry neighbor

  • Lynne Ballard and Patrick Devlin of Greenfield are upset with their neighbors plans to build an accessory dwelling unit 30 feet from their property line in view of their private back yard. They are on their property looking at the marked off foundation on their neighbor's property. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Lynne Ballard and Patrick Devlin of Greenfield are upset with their neighbor’s plans to build an accessory dwelling unit 30 feet from their property line in view of their private back yard. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Lynne Ballard and Patrick Devlin of Greenfield are upset with their neighbors plans to build an accessory dwelling unit 30 feet from their property line in view of their private back yard. The unit would be visible from inside their home. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Lynne Ballard and Patrick Devlin of Greenfield are upset with their neighbors plans to build an accessory dwelling unit 30 feet from their property line in view of their private back yard. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 10/3/2016 11:27:55 PM

GREENFIELD — Gazing through a picture window in their Bernardston Road home, Patrick Devlin and Lynne Ballard looked out on their patio, inground pool and sprawling backyard — a place they’ve called a sanctuary from the stress of daily life for the past 20 years.

But the couple fears that haven could be in jeopardy. Less than a month after Town Council passed an ordinance legalizing so-called in-law apartments in town, their next door neighbor at 907 Bernardston Road applied for a special permit to build a detached, 882-square-foot cottage on her 2.5 acres. The cottage would sit 30 feet from the property line on a hill, separated from Devlin’s private backyard by a wooden fence, several dying pine trees and deciduous shrubs that only provide screening for five months of the year.

“She picked out this beautiful English cottage, and I have to say that I was impressed with the picture of it. However, it’s going to be built right next to our property and it’s on a pretty good, steep hill that’s going to overlook our swimming pool,” Devlin said.

Town Council passed an Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance in August, which makes it legal for residents to build up to 900-square-foot apartments either inside existing owner-occupied homes, as additions, as new detached structures or inside existing detached structures, like garages or carriage houses. The couple’s neighbor, Marcia Vincent, is the first person in town to apply not only for an ADU, but the special permit required to build a detached structure.

When reached by phone Friday, Vincent said she picked a spot for the dwelling that was greater than the minimum distance of 20 feet from the property line in an effort to avoid conflict with her neighbors. The cottage would sit 100 feet away from her main house.

Planning Board Chairwoman Roxann Wedegartner called Vincent’s proposal a poster child for ADUs, saying she thinks the cottage is very attractive and blends in well with the rest of the property.

“We’re kind of excited to hear that we had an ADU coming up so quickly, and then when we saw the drawing, we were like, this is exactly what we had in mind — somebody who is older and wanting to have a separate structure as a guest house or as an income property — whatever way she chooses to use it at whatever point in her life,” Wedegartner said.

But Vincent’s proposal is also the classic scenario some residents envisioned when they expressed concern about detached units before the ordinance was approved. In addition to privacy and noise concerns if the cottage were to be built overlooking their pool, Devlin and Ballard said they’re also worried about who might live there. The ordinance mandates that the property owner live in either the main house or the ADU, but does not regulate who the apartment could be rented out to.

“A unit like this could be turned into an Airbnb,” Devlin said. “We don’t know who’s going to live in it.”

The town does not currently regulate short-term rentals like Airbnb, and they are not addressed in the ordinance.

Devlin added he doesn’t believe his neighbor’s proposal is in the spirit of the ordinance, which was intended, in part, to help older homeowners stay in their homes and to add moderately priced rental units to the housing stock for low and moderate income households.

“During the public hearings, most of the people didn’t have an issue with attached or within. The only piece that everybody was griping about was detached, and I think they kind of knew of these unintentional consequences,” he said. “To me, it seems like the ordinance is geared toward middle, moderate income people — certainly not the rich people, but it’s the rich people that are going to build these separate houses.”

Vincent declined to comment on why she hopes to build the dwelling, calling it a private matter, and declined to answer any more questions from The Recorder.

“Being the first person (to build an ADU), I guess I’ve been set up to be criticized,” she said.

Wedegartner said the process for approving a special permit for a detached ADU is the same as any other site plan review, and a public hearing about Vincent’s proposal will take place Thursday evening. She said the Planning Board typically doesn’t get involved with the exact design of a building, but added that sometimes when concerns are raised, people are agreeable to working it out.

“If there are issues that (the neighbors) have apart from the fact that they just don’t want it there, that we can maybe mitigate or take care of in some way, we’ll certainly try to work that out,” she said. “What we’re saying is these people have a legal right under our ordinance to build this, and there’s no reason for us to deny the special permit for them.”

Devlin said he’s not optimistic about beating the plan, but said other people will eventually go through the same thing and wants to correct what he sees as a flawed ordinance. He said he would like to see it amended to require detached units to be closer to the main house. Thirty feet would be a good distance, he said.

Although they’re not on talking terms, Devlin said he plans to ask Vincent to move the cottage closer to her house during the public hearing and plant some type of screening between the two properties. Ballard added she fears that if the town allows the cottage to be built in its current planned location, her property will be devalued while Vincent’s property will increase in value.

“She owns 2.5 acres of land, she could put it elsewhere,” Devlin said. “Every time we look through one of our picture windows, we’re going to see this thing looming over our swimming pool.”

You can reach Aviva Luttrell at: aluttrell@recorder.com




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