With feedback from forum, survey, Buckland hopes to address housing needs

  • Buckland Town Hall. STAFF FILE PHOTO

For the Recorder
Published: 12/3/2020 4:42:59 PM
Modified: 12/3/2020 4:42:49 PM

BUCKLAND — Based on feedback from a virtual forum Wednesday and a survey that’s available until Jan. 6, the Planning Board intends to draft potential zoning bylaw changes to address the town’s housing needs.

Wednesday’s forum recapped to 24 participants what was addressed during a similar forum in October 2019, and a poll was taken after explanations of three proposed zoning changes that involve expanding access to accessory apartments, relaxing dimension requirements and encouraging cluster development.

The zoning changes considered were developed to address housing needs identified in an assessment and survey completed in 2016.

“In general, the (2016) housing study showed that there was a mismatch of the housing that we have and the housing needs of residents, and there are a lack of housing options for changing household types,” explained Planning Board member Andrea Donlon.

Donlon said the causes include changing demographics, wages trailing behind the cost of living and an old housing stock.

“About one-third of homeowners and half of renters are paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, which indicates a real need for more affordable rental units,” Donlon continued.

She added that the median single-family sale price of houses has been considerably higher than what the town has deemed an affordable price based on the median salary in Buckland, making it out of reach for many residents. The 2016 assessment identified seniors, first-time homebuyers, renters and people with disabilities as groups with significant housing needs.

Donlon highlighted the difference between capitalized “A” Affordable housing, which is kept affordable over time via a deed restriction, increases based on median income in the area and is often built or preserved with local state or federal funds; and lowercase “a” affordable housing, which is naturally occurring affordability with no restrictions on income or rent. Together, the three proposed zoning changes aim to increase the availability of both types of affordable housing.

“None of these proposals have draft bylaws,” said Alyssa Larose, senior land use and natural resource planner with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG). “We’ve held off on specific drafting until we got more public feedback.”

The first proposal involves changes to the accessory apartments bylaw, including removing the two-person occupancy restriction and allowing accessory apartments to be either attached to the home or detached as a separate structure. The Planning Board reassured participants that new structures would require a special permit and therefore go through the public hearing process to allow neighbors to give input.

While forum participants mostly supported attached accessory apartments based on responses to the poll taken, separate accessory apartments drew more of a mixed response.

The second zoning proposal reduces the minimum lot area and frontage requirements in the Village Zoning Districts, as only 51 percent of existing lots meet current requirements. By reducing the minimum lot area of 20,000 square feet and minimum frontage of 100 feet, the Planning Board aims to reduce non-conformity of existing lots, increase the opportunity for splitting lots, allow new developments to be closer to historic development patterns and reduce barriers to redevelopment on existing lots.

The board addressed some concerns from participants, explaining that sewage and parking for more buildings would not be an issue. Again, the majority of participants polled supported the change.

Reducing the minimum land area for cluster development and conservation was also proposed, which would allow for smaller infill developments, each with smaller lot sizes and frontage, a model where buildings cluster utilities and increase common open space.

“These alternative types of development advance what we have publicly affirmed as goals of preserving open-space and minimizing the impact on farmland while providing housing opportunity and returning landowners’ value for resources,” said John Gould, co-chair of the Planning Board.

He added that this bylaw could facilitate co-housing, and include design guidelines to align with village character and a cap on home sizes. A majority of participants supported this prospect.

The board is also considering revisiting the current cluster development and conservation bylaw to stipulate 60 percent instead of 40 percent open space preservation, relax dimensional requirements and add a density bonus for cluster developments to encourage them in the rural residential zone.

“Ultimately our hope is to unlock the potential of this wonderful little town,” Planning Board Co-Chair Michael Hoberman said. “Our charge is to preserve the town’s rural character and natural resources and at the same time make sure that we’re taking care of our town’s economic and social well-being without paying any undo price.”

A survey on the proposed housing bylaw changes is posted on the Buckland town website until Jan. 6. The Planning Board will draft potential zoning changes based on feedback from the forum and the online survey results, then hold a public hearing to discuss the proposed changes.

Slides from Wednesday’s presentation can be found at bit.ly/36ymGRF.




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