Leyden bylaw changes regarding ADUs look to address housing shortage

Leyden Town Hall.

Leyden Town Hall. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By LIESEL NYGARD

For the Recorder

Published: 05-09-2024 1:57 PM

LEYDEN — The Planning Board discussed the possibility of adopting amendments and additions to the town’s zoning bylaws to promote housing growth during a public hearing on Wednesday.

The changes, which will be voted on during Leyden’s Annual Town Meeting on June 3, focus on regulations for detached accessory dwelling units (ADUs) that would enable “older homeowners to stay more comfortably in their homes” by offering a source of rental income, companionship, security and services such as live-in health care support, according to a Planning Board handout. The changes would also provide housing units for people with disabilities, allow for moderately priced rental units that meet the needs of smaller households, address the need for short-term housing and provide housing for farm workers in support of Leyden’s agricultural community.

“The reason we kind of started thinking this way is because some of us are getting old,” said Planning Board Chair James Brodeur. “This would be an opportunity to build a small house on your same property with ease to take care of it. You can rent out your previous home; the family, kids could live there and help support you and whatnot. Also for younger families to be able to buy a house and have some stability. ... Our kids can’t afford to buy a house or build a house in Leyden [and] we want them to have that.”

At this time, if a resident wanted to convert a single-family home into a two-family home, they would need to obtain a special permit, which can take three to six months. The plan is to change this bylaw so that residents could simply obtain a building permit, which the Planning Board said is faster.

The current bylaw also states that no one is permitted to build a second dwelling unit on their property, including the conversion of a garage to an “in-law apartment,” the handout reads. However, the Planning Board is looking to change this bylaw to instead say all homeowners can build a detached ADU on their land without a special permit. It’s expected that the ADUs be no more than 900 square feet, include a permanent foundation, and be designed and built to meet the requirements of state building, housing and sanitary codes.

The ADU must also have a minimum of one off-street parking space provided, in addition to the off-street parking spaces required for the single-family dwelling. The handout states that “no more than one curb cut or driveway access is permitted for the lot unless the Planning Board determines that a second driveway will improve public safety and not detract from the rural character of the road during the site plan review.”

While conducting research to inform its bylaw revisions, the Planning Board learned that not only does Leyden’s 2010 Open Space and Recreation Plan support having ADUs by right, but it’s also mentioned in the state’s Affordable Homes Act, which is currently in front of the Legislature. The legislation would require municipalities to allow ADUs by right on any lot in a single-family zoning district, subject to regulations related to septic disposal and dimensional requirements.

Assuming this act passes, ADUs could be allowed at 1.43 million single-family homes throughout Massachusetts, “though there’s no expectation that all homeowners would create such a unit,” the state website details.

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Brodeur said the “biggest hurdle” is the septic systems.

“Most septic systems are designed to have three bedrooms,” Brodeur said. “If we already have three bedrooms and you want to add one of these [ADUs], that becomes a bedroom, and the septic system may have to be upgraded to a bigger tank [and an] extended [leach] field.”

A small group of residents who attended Wednesday’s public hearing voiced support for the bylaw revisions, including Sara Seinberg, who said she’s “generally in favor of this proposal” although she has questions regarding septic.

“I think that it could be a good idea since the housing thing has to go through Beacon Hill. Even if the governor wants that, the Planning Board could submit a letter to our senator and to our representative saying if a separate septic system gets built for a smaller ADU, we think that they should be able to build a septic system smaller and a leach field smaller as well,” she said. “That would be really helpful for rural towns.”