With accessory apartment bylaw nearly done, Deerfield Planning Board seeks input


Staff Writer

Published: 02-07-2023 1:46 PM

DEERFIELD — Although the final draft of a revised bylaw governing accessory dwelling units is nearly complete, the Planning Board held off on approving it Monday with the intention to encourage public input before sending it to Town Meeting.

The revised bylaw would allow accessory apartments to be created by right, a shift from the current regulation where a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals is required to build one. It would also allow accessory apartments to be inhabited by any tenant, while the current bylaw only allows caregivers or people being supported by the owners of the primary residence to live there, which Planning Board Chair Analee Wulfkuhle said is outdated.

The Planning Board is revising the bylaw with the intention of making it easier for homeowners to create accessory dwelling units, which could provide residents with another income stream, increase housing inventory in town and provide more opportunities for aging folks to remain in their homes or with family members.

“We’ve got a housing problem, we’ve got a child care problem, we’re an aging community and people are having a difficult time staying in their homes. You cannot find anything that’s livable for less than $300,000,” said Planning Board member Denise Mason. “That’s another good reason for accessory dwellings, to keep our families together.”

If approved, the revisions would allow an accessory apartment to be up to 900 square feet, if it is attached to an existing single-family dwelling. A special permit, however, will still be required for accessory apartments that require structural modifications larger than the existing footprint of the primary building or for accessory apartments that are detached from the primary structure, but still on the same lot.

While the Planning Board is inviting more community input on the bylaw, two members of the public voiced their support for the bylaw at Monday’s meeting.

John Cunningham, an Amherst resident with a building lot in South Deerfield, voiced his support for the bylaw, but asked for clarification about whether the new regulations would require that accessory apartments be designed so residences retain the appearance of a single-family dwelling.

Member Kathy Sylvester, who led the development of the revisions, said “there was a lot of discussion about size” when reworking the bylaw and the Planning Board kept the revisions simple for now. Regarding entrances, Sylvester said a single entrance leading to two separate dwellings is acceptable for new buildings.

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“We’re trying to have a start here. We may end up changing it in two or three years,” Sylvester said. “We need to get somewhere where the town as a whole can support this. … When you go into larger square footage, you’re going to get more pushback.”

Resident Matt Mourovic also voiced support for the bylaw revisions because it would allow his mother to move onto his property and support his young son, providing both a residence for his mom and a child care option while he and his wife are at work.

“The ability to build a small structure on our property … would be a tremendous help for our family and I,” Mourovic commented. “We’re not interested in it for revenue. … (It’s about) being able to support my mom and her being able to support my son.”

The Planning Board continued its public hearing on the bylaw to Monday, March 6, at 6 p.m. and invites the public to share their thoughts and feedback on the revisions. Meetings are held at Town Hall and are also accessible by Zoom.

If approved by the Planning Board, the bylaw will come before voters on May 1 at Annual Town Meeting.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.