Greenfield City Council considers citizen-requested changes to ADU ordinance

Staff Writer
Published: 9/17/2020 4:51:19 PM

GREENFIELD — The City Council voted Wednesday to send a subcommittee for consideration two citizen-proposed amendments to a recently passed ordinance allowing “by right” accessory dwelling units (ADUs), better known as in-law apartments.

Led by Greenfield resident Al Norman, 50 residents proposed that councilors return to the ordinance they passed earlier this summer to require that any detached ADU not be owned by someone other than the property owner unless it is owner-occupied. They have also proposed that an ADU not be built on a property smaller than three-quarters of an acre, and would like the city to go back to requiring a special permit for detached ADUs.

The first request will go to the council’s Economic Development Committee; the second will go to that subcommittee as well as the Planning Board for consideration. Public hearings will be held to get residents’ input before the Economic Development Committee and Planning Board make their recommendations.

A frustrated At-Large Councilor Penny Ricketts asked President Ashli Stempel-Rae to look into “what happens if someone comes forward with something else” after the council makes its decision on the proposals. She asked, “When does ‘no’ mean ‘no?’” It was apparent Ricketts was referring to Norman’s multiyear fight to prevent a big box department store from being built on the French King Highway. That project has been in the courts since the early 2000s.

At-Large Councilor Philip Elmer said he believes that allowing ADUs “by right” opens a loophole that could allow contractors to pay landowners to allow them to build condos on owners’ properties, and then rent or sell them to someone else. He said one of the proposed changes would prevent that from happening.

Ten councilors voted against requiring a special permit for detached ADUs. However, even though the council voted against that proposed ordinance change, both requests will go to the Economic Development Committee and will be voted on by the council again at some point in the future, after it has received recommendations.

Norman said ADUs can have a huge impact on abutters, and allowing them “by right” takes away a neighbor’s right to contest a project that affects their property. On the other hand, he said, if a project requires a special permit, it can only be granted after finding that it “will not adversely impact adjacent properties,” is “compatible with existing uses and … shall not detract from the character and scale of neighboring properties.”

When councilors voted to allow ADUs by right, most said they believe the ordinance will be used simply as a way to keep an aging parent or child with disabilities close by, allowing them independence while having family near them, while Norman and petitioners believe 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.

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 that detached units can invade neighbors’ privacy and encroach upon their properties.

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

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or


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