Buckland TM voters pass zoning changes to increase affordable housing

  • Buckland officials sit in a line at the Saturday’s Special Town Meeting held in the Mohawk Trail Regional School parking lot. Staff PHOTO/Joan Livingston

Staff Writer
Published: 10/24/2021 3:34:28 PM

BUCKLAND — Voters at Saturday’s Special Town Meeting passed zoning changes aimed at boosting affordable housing opportunities for seniors and first-time homebuyers, plus increasing the property tax base.

About 69 residents gathered in the Mohawk Trail Regional School’s parking lot for two hours with temperatures hovering in the 40s.

Most of the meeting’s discussion was spent on four zoning articles, which all passed.

The first two zoning articles updated definitions for housing types. One concerned mobile homes, trailers, campers and modular homes. The other contained an extensive definition for accessory dwelling units, which was amended by voters to change their permitted size. Voters struck down the requirement that the accessory dwelling “is not larger in floor area than ½ the floor area of the principal dwelling” to allow owners of small homes to build one.

Prior to the second article’s passage, resident Jamie Godfrey spoke about the “thoughtful process” behind the proposed zoning changes.

“I think what they are trying to do here is create a framework where we can develop the potential that is in this community to live more closely together, to attract new people, to take care of our elders, our older population,” Godfrey said. “I directed the Senior Center for five years and I’m very powerfully aware of how hard it is for many seniors who are now living in isolation.”

Planning Board member Brian Rose explained the zoning change on accessory dwellings, which are allowed in all of the town’s zones except for the industrial zones, lifts restrictions that the unit must be built within an existing configuration and occupancy is limited to two people. The owner must still occupy one of the dwelling units along with other requirements such as parking. No housing on wheels would be considered.

Rose said a survey conducted in 2016 and published the following year identified four housing needs in Buckland: the town’s aging population, including providing space for caregivers; first-time homebuyers; renters; and disabled individuals.

A handout distributed to voters noted a $100,000 gap between what a Buckland family earning a median income could afford to pay for a home and the median sale price of homes on the market, which during the first six months of this year was $306,500. In addition, using U.S. Census Bureau data, about 17% of homeowners and 45% of renters pay more than 30% percent of their monthly income on housing.

Planning Board Co-Chair Michael Hoberman said the purpose of the zoning changes is to organize zoning into new ideas “to improve living conditions in the town and maximize our ability to maintain our rural character.”

A third article changed the requirements in the Village Residential, Village Commercial and Historic Industrial districts. The minimum lot size, provided it has access to public water and sewer, was changed from 20,000 square feet to 10,000 and minimum frontage from 100 to 75 feet. The change will allow for infill housing.

The fourth provides options for clustered housing accompanied by the preservation of a certain amount of open space.

In other business, voters

■Approved unanimously $1,263,104 for the purpose of planning, designing and constructing a new community pool and pool house at the Buckland Recreation Area, which was closed in 2016 for safety issues. Part of the funding includes a $400,000 grant the Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities (PARC) program awarded last month.

■Agreed to borrow $625,000 toward the replacement of the Nilman Road culvert at Clark Brook, a project totaling $1.2 million. The town has already secured a $500,000 grant from the state Department of Transportation. The $625,000 sum is earmarked in a bond bill, which has yet to be released, but in the meantime, the short-term loan will enable the work to be undertaken before winter.

■Passed three funding articles that would enable the Building and Grounds Department to handle such work as snow removal in the village and mowing that has been done by outside parties. The amounts are: $20,000 for salary expense; $10,500 for materials, tools and fuel; $18,100 for a tractor.

■Approved purchase of a $56,946 hybrid police cruiser for the Police Department, which replaces a pickup truck town officials say was inefficient as a cruiser to the Highway Department. The town secured a $5,000 grant from the Department of Energy Resources Green Communities Division.


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