Greenfield Economic Development Committee backs ADUs without special permit

Staff Writer
Published: 10/14/2020 4:49:38 PM

GREENFIELD — While the residents who spoke at Tuesday’s joint public hearing of the Economic Development Committee and the Planning Board were concerned about the recently modified ordinance allowing detached accessory dwelling units (ADUs) by right, the Economic Development Committee isn’t recommending any changes to the full City Council.

Although the Economic Development Committee deliberated immediately after the closure of the public hearing portion at 6:42 p.m., the Planning Board plans to wait to deliberate until its next meeting at the end of the month.

A handful of residents spoke during the public hearing and two emails were read, echoing concerns about detached ADUs, better known as in-law apartments, being allowed by right, as opposed to requiring a special permit as in the past. The Economic Development Committee’s decision to send a “negative” recommendation to the full City Council means it decided the full council’s vote in May to allow detached ADUs by right should stand.

Orchard Street resident Sandy Thomas said she and her husband, Russ Thomas, support in-house and attached ADUs, but don’t believe the city should have done away with special permits for detached units.

“There has been an ordinance in place since 1989 for detached structures, requiring them to obtain a special permit,” Thomas said. “I think that’s just common sense. No one wants something adversely impacting their neighborhood. Neighbors directly impacted should have a say.”

Thomas said there was a home on Orchard Street that sat deteriorating for six years and the city never did anything about it. She’s afraid the same will happen without stricter enforcement and requirements for detached ADUs.

Al Norman and his wife, Anna Morrison, also spoke against detached ADUs being allowed by right. They said they’re concerned that a property only has to be three-quarters of an acre to be allowed to build a second structure.

“I could build one according to the ordinance in my side yard,” Morrison said. “But my neighbor would be able to reach out and touch it.”

The two boards also considered cleaning up some language in the ordinance — “housekeeping” they called it — and Norman said he “enthusiastically supports” that, but also very firmly believes the city should go back to requiring a special permit for detached ADUs.

“You have to allow neighbors to have a voice — not control, a voice,” he said. “If a neighbor thinks a structure is incompatible with his or her neighborhood, he or she should have a chance to say why. That won’t happen if a special permit isn’t required.”

Norman said allowing a stand-alone dwelling on a single-home property is a significant change to the land, and could cause privacy or drainage issues, especially for immediate neighbors.

“We don’t want to see people having to spend a lot of money in court when these types of issues should be resolved by the city,” he said.

Norman and Morrison said they don’t understand why Greenfield requires special permits for solar panels, raising chickens and congregate housing, but does not require the same for a second home on a property.

“You’re going to need more than three-quarters of an acre if you’re not going to require a special permit,” Morrison said, adding she wouldn’t want to encroach on someone else’s property and wouldn’t want them to do the same.

Former City Councilor Patrick Devlin said he and his wife, Lynn Ballard, who sent an email asking that the city go back to requiring a special permit, were disappointed when they learned the council changed the ordinance to allow detached ADUs by right.

“If it is not the business of neighbors to have a say about what’s being built next to them, why do we have other things that require special permits?” he asked.

Before the City Council changed the ordinance to allow all ADUs by right, the Planning Board gave its recommendation, which was to continue to require a special permit for detached ADUs, so Devlin asked why that board was not listened to.

“This won’t even require neighbors to be notified,” he said. “They won’t know what’s happening until the bulldozer arrives.”

Devlin and Ballard learned their 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. Devlin said it would have sat 30 feet from his property, overlooked his swimming pool and created a nightmare for drainage on his property. The neighbor ended up not going through with construction.

Former City Councilor David Singer said a special permit for detached dwellings makes sense, and that abutters have reasonable expectations of privacy.

“Detached units should be distinguished from those added on or inside of a home,” Singer said. “They should be required to have a special permit.”

Marlynn Clayton of Peabody Lane simply said she wanted to echo what everyone before her said.

“A detached building should require a special permit — that’s just being a good neighbor,” she said.

Fifty people, including those who spoke Tuesday night, signed a petition asking that the City Council take another vote to return to requiring a special permit to build detached ADUs.

Economic Development Committee Chair Tim Dolan, Precinct 3 Councilor Virginia DeSorgher and Precinct 1 Councilor Ed Jarvis voted to send the negative recommendation to the full council, while At-Large Councilor Phil Elmer and Precinct 9 Councilor Norman Hirschfeld voted against sending a negative recommendation.

The full City Council will once again discuss the proposed changes — requiring a special permit for detached ADUs; disallowing separate ownership of an ADU on land owned by someone else; whether the lot size should increase from the minimum three-quarters of an acre; and other minor language changes that “clean up” and clarify the ordinance.

The City Council will hold a virtual meeting at 7 p.m. on Oct. 21. The meeting can be joined at

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or

Greenfield Recorder

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Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906


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