Law changes to allow in-law units in single-family homes

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

CONCORD — In an effort to enrich the housing stock throughout the state, the Legislature has enacted and the governor has signed a law requiring municipalities to permit owners of single-family homes to add at least one "accessory dwelling unit."

The statute is intended to address several mismatches between demand and supply in the housing market, which were identified by a study undertaken by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies for the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority. The study found a shortage of affordable housing, which accessory units can address without the need to construct more infrastructure or develop more land. With the aging of the population, demand has grown for housing for elderly parents and in-laws who do not wish to care for large homes or move to nursing homes. Younger individuals and couples, many saddled with student loan debt, are deferring both homeownership and child rearing while seeking housing in an extremely tight rental market.

"There is a significant mismatch," said Ben Frost of New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, "as the rate of household formation is slowing and the size of households is shrinking while the there are many large homes in the housing inventory." He said that the situation is especially prevalent in the northeast and particularly in northern New England, with its smaller families and aging population.

Russ Thibeault of Applied Economic Research of Laconia, pointed out that municipalities adopted zoning ordinances in the 1980s and 1990s when the population was growing at a fast pace. Consequently, ordinances were designed to manage the pace and pattern of growth. "Since 2010," he said, "the population has grown one percent. Change, the aging demographic, is more important than growth,"

Roy Sanborn of Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty of Meredith said "there is a steady demand for homes with an accessory or in-law apartment, either for aging parents or a caregiver."

The statute enables municipalities to require the property owner to occupy one of the units, which he may be required to designate as his or her primary residence. But, municipalities cannot limit the occupants of accessory units to family members of the property owner. Nor can they limit an accessory unit to a single bedroom. However, they can set minimum and maximum sizes for accessory units so long as they are at least 750 square feet. Likewise, municipalities may apply aesthetic criteria to preserve the appearance of the single-family dwelling and require adequate parking to serve the accessory unit. The statute also enables, but does not require, municipalities to permit detached accessory units, which must comply with municipal zoning ordinances.

Laconia adopted an ordinance permitting accessory units in 1997. It stipulates that no more than one accessory unit can be on a single lot, as well as that an accessory unit cannot exceed 400 square feet and must be within or attached to an existing building. As for the appearance of the property, the ordinance prescribes only that it "must be maintained."

In Laconia accessory units are confined to four zoning districts — Rural Residential 1, Rural Residential 2, Residential Single Family and Downtown Riverfront. Single-family homes are permitted in these four districts as well as in Shorefront Residential, Residential General, Residential Apartment, Professional, Commercial Resort, Business Central, Commercial and Business Central Industrial Districts.

Since the city has incorporated accessory units into its zoning ordinance, the law allows it to permit them by right, conditional use permit or special exception "in all zoning districts that permit single family dwellings."

By contrast, the ordinance adopted in Dover applies to all single-family homes and specifies that accessory units can range from 300 to 800 square feet, but not exceed 30 percent of the floor space of the single-family unit. At the same time, any exterior alterations or extensions must maintain the appearance of a single-family home and the entrance to the accessory unit must be on the side or at the rear of the building if at all possible. Each accessory unit must have one off-street parking space. Dover also requires property owners to enter a restrictive covenant that the accessory unit will not be converted to condominium.

Gilmanton homeowner still waits for bathroom addition explanation

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILMANTON — With no clarification on whether a septic inspection is needed to add a bathroom to a local home, one homeowner was given permission to move forward on the electrical and construction phase of his project.

The town's building inspector said the plumbing portion will have to wait until the Planning Board can state why the ordinance is written the way it is.

Faith Tobin, the wife and business partner of Town Building Inspector Bill Tobin, said that the wording in the town ordinance regarding bathrooms is vague. In her opinion, the town land use planner interpreted the ordinance correctly as it was written – which is to say an evaluation of the septic system is needed.

However, said Tobin, she is anticipating a letter from the Planning Board explaining what its intent was when it drafted the ordinance and it was passed by voters last year.

The particular Gilmanton home in question uses a well and a septic system. The ordinance reads that "any structure being improved by a bathroom where none exists" would require a septic system evaluation.

Typically, towns' zoning ordinances use the number of bedrooms for septic inspections and improvement, which is an indicator of how many people can actually live in the house. This is the argument presented by the homeowner and his supporters, including some members of the Board of Selectmen.

Tobin said Gilmanton's ordinance does appear to be unique but said the interpretation of what the planners meant is more meaningful to this particular situation.

Selectman Michael Jean said yesterday that if the ordinance needs to be rewritten to more clearly state its intent, then the Planning Board should do that this year and put it on the 2017 ordinance.

Woman recued from Alpine Ridge

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILFORD – A woman who became disoriented while hiking at Gunstock Area Resort Tuesday evening was found by fire-rescue crews and brought to safety.
Police Chief Steve Carrier said it appears the woman entered into the old Alpine Ridge Ski Area where the trails haven't been used in a considerable amount of time, and in many cases are overgrown and unmarked.
She was able to contact a family member using her phone but couldn't describe any of her surroundings as familiar. When rescuers arrived, which included about eight firefighters and two police officers, they told the woman to call 911 so they could get a better "ping" through the Global Positioning Sensor (GPS).
Shortly after the woman was able to reach 911, she became unconscious because of a underlying medical condition; however, her 911 line remained open.
The woman was taken by ambulance to Lakes Region General Hospital in serious condition, due to her underlying medical condition and the chilly air that had settled in while she was unconscious.
Lt. Jeff Maddon said crews were very fortunate to reach the woman before told darkness fell, when the operation would have had to be expanded to include the Department of Fish and Game and other area agencies.
Carrier said two people were rescued from Belknap Mountain on Sunday. The first was a man who injured his ankle at the top of the White Trail. He said six to eight rescuers with a litter were sent up the green trail. While bringing the man down, one of the other members of his hiking party slipped and hurt his leg. This person, too, was taken down the mountain by the crews. Both were transferred to Lakes Region General Hospital for treatments.