New law accommodates those who don’t need large homes
By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
About six months ago, a city man went before the Zoning Board of Adjustments and asked permission to build an apartment above his garage for his aging parents.
The request was denied because the proposed apartment was about 700 square feet, which is nearly double the 400-square-foot maximum set by the city in 1997.
Because of a new state law, if he had waited until July 1, 2017, all things being equal, his request likely would have been allowed.
In March, Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a state-wide zoning law that allows “accessory dwelling units” to be allowed by right, by special exception or by conditional use in every community. Such housing can benefit the smaller families and aging population in New Hampshire, which has bigger houses than they need or can afford.
According to attorney Eric Mahar in an article he wrote for the New Hampshire Law Review, the new law limits restrictions individual communities can place on accessory dwelling units, which are defined as a residential living unit within or added to a single-family home that provides independent living facilities for one or more people to include bathroom, kitchen and sleeping. Think apartment over a garage, basement apartment, or even a tiny house in a back yard.
“Homeowners can have an accessory unit without the need to comply with any additional requirements for lot size, frontage, space limitations or other controls beyond what its otherwise required for a single-family dwelling,” he wrote. Communities can require a larger lot size if the accessory dwelling is in detached unit.
There is no longer a requirement that accessory dwellings be occupied by family members, and municipalities cannot require that the door between them remain unlocked.
Municipalities can regulate the size of an accessory dwelling provided it is not less than 750 square feet. As in the example above, Laconia's current requirement is no larger than 400 square feet.
Every single-family residence is allowed one accessory dwelling unit in all zones that allow single-family residences.
“(The new law) was enacted to refocus the purpose of land use regulations from controlling or limiting population growth to promoting and encouraging it,” said Mahar.
“I think this will affect the small towns the most,” said Gilford Town Planner John Ayer, who added that Gilford's ordinance only needs a few tweaks because ADUs have been allowed by right for quite a while. He said they will strike the current restriction on them in the Island Resort District.
“I do think it's a little odd for the state to impose their will on the towns,” he said.
Ayer said he thinks smaller rural communities will be more affected because most housing in the state's cities, including Laconia, is already on lots that don't allow for physical expansion because of other reasons like setbacks, parking requirements and other dimension restrictions.
Economist Russ Thibeault agrees.
The reasons for the change, said Thibeault of Applied Economic Research of Laconia, are to try and reconcile New Hampshire's housing supply with its housing demands.
Thibeault said his research for the American Community Survey for New Hampshire showed that in 2013 25 percent of the 519,000 households in the state have only one person and 38 percent of them have two people, meaning slightly more than one half of the households have two or fewer people.
This 53 percent fall into two distinct categories. There is the aging population, who have either moved to New Hampshire or are retiring in place, and there are the young adults who are either single or recently married people who have put off having children until their 30s.
On the supply side, of the 617,000 housing units in New Hampshire, 380,000 have three or more bedrooms and many are second homes.
“We have lots of small households with lots of big houses,” Thibeault said.
Both the old and the young can benefit from an increase availability of accessory housing units, he said. The elderly benefit from having the opportunity for some additional income that can come from renting an accessory dwelling unit, often times to family members in the young adult categories. Young couples without children, or DINKS (Double Income No Kids), can benefit from such accessory apartments, which can be more affordable as they struggle with entry-level incomes and massive college debt.
The goal of the new law is to add more affordable housing units to the state.
While some states have seen building booms because of the relaxation of rules on accessory dwelling units, Thibeault doesn't see additional construction as being a big economic driver in Lakes Region.
While a small construction boom generated by the construction of accessory apartments or the renovation of larger homes to include accessory apartment is possible, he thinks that most of the Lakes Region's more densely populated areas are already at the construction limits.
“(Construction) could have an impact in the North Country,” he said.
The author is an alternate member of the Laconia Zoning Board.
This is an example of an accessory dwelling unit as shown in the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning publication. (Courtesy photo)
- Category: Local News
- Hits: 354