Laconia City Council revises zoning rules in response to state law
By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — A new state law intended to make it easier to build an in-law apartment is having the unintended consequence of making the process harder in some cases.
Those wishing to build these accessory dwelling units will need to seek approval of the Zoning Board of Adjustment under an ordinance approved by the City Council on Monday night.
Existing requirements had previously allowed this construction in many Laconia residential zones without the need to go before a city board.
A state law going into effect June 1 presented council members with a dilemma.
They could either allow these units with little restriction, or they could allow them with some conditions in a process requiring the applicant to come before the Zoning Board of Adjustment for a "special exception," which requires an application, notice to abutters and a public hearing.
The council chose the latter, opting for placing conditions on these dwellings including that the property owner must occupy either the primary residence or the new unit. Another condition is that the new unit have self-sufficient living quarters.
The unit shall not be less than 300 square feet or more than 750 square feet in most cases. It can exceed 750 square feet if its size is no more than 25 percent of the main dwelling.
Mayor Ed Engler said the involvement of the Zoning Board of Adjustment adds a complication for those wishing to build an in-law apartment.
"It's not a huge deal," Engler said. "But it's another layer of bureaucracy, an extra hoop they have to jump through."
The new state law grew out of a study by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, finding that there is demand for such housing, as people want smaller homes with a more urban feel.
Such units can also offer older people greater opportunities to "age in place" without the need to move to senior housing.
City Planning Director Dean Trefethen said the new ordinance can help the city ensure these units are used as intended. The city has an interest, for example, in making sure the property owner doesn't rent out both the main residence and the accessory dwelling.
"The ordinance has a little more teeth and gives us something to fall back on," he said.
A primary purpose of the new state law is to prohibit communities from bans on accessory dwelling units altogether, as some do.
As of June 1, municipalities must allow the units in every zone where single family housing is now permitted, although conditions can be placed governing factors such as size, access points and parking requirements.
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