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Montville opts out of state law to make accessory dwellings more accessible

Montville — The town's Planning and Zoning Commission voted to opt out of Public Act 21-29, a state act that changes requirements for accessory dwelling units throughout the state.

Also referred to as accessory apartments, they are small residential units — such as garage apartments or "mother-in-law suites" — attached to or detached from a home. Public Act 21-29 would permit accessory apartments anywhere residential uses are permitted without a special permit or public hearing.

Housing advocates say the act prevents towns from enacting zoning regulations that discriminate on the basis of income source (including public assistance), income level or "immutable characteristics" other than age and disability.

The legislation went into effect Jan. 1 and municipalities can choose whether to "opt out" of the law before the same date next year. Opting out of the law requires a public hearing and a vote by the a municipality's planning and zoning commission and another vote by the town council. If municipalities opt out, they can keep their existing regulations or change them.

The Montville Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing Tuesday but no members of the public commented.

Town Planner Liz Burdick during the meeting said there is a lot the law allows that the town currently does not. She recommended the town opt out of the law to address how to "thoughtfully and intentionally" draft regulations.

The commission's chairwoman, Sarah Bundy, agreed with Burdick, adding opting out would allow the commission to choose zoning regulations that are "fit and tailored" to the town.

Montville's current zoning regulations allow a dwelling unit "which is interior to a single family house, or an addition to the side or rear of the house, or over a garage, which meets zoning setbacks, and has a common utility meter" with the single-family house and does not exceed 800 square feet in size.

At Tuesday's meeting, Burdick mentioned how Desegregate CT — a coalition advocating for more equitable, affordable and environmentally sustainable land use policies in the state — had been "trolling" the town to get officials to not opt out of the law.

Burdick explained on Wednesday "trolling" is not the word she should have used to describe the group; she said monitoring and gathering information would be a better description.

"We're glad the statewide legislation that passed last year has spurred on conversations in Waterford, Montville, and other towns, centered around how to update their regulations to match the statewide legislation that passed last year," said Nick Abbott, deputy director of Desegregate CT.

Waterford Planning and Zoning Commission also met Tuesday night to discuss the new law but decided to hold off on a decision, continuing the public hearing until its regular meeting on Feb. 22 to "enable more people to comment if they wish," Planning Director Abby Piersall said.

Abbott said Montville already appears to generally track the new statewide provisions, but Waterford "would need to update its laws to allow for detached units (like those in a carriage house or over a separate garage) and increase the allowed square footage from 850 to 1,000 square feet."


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