Three months in, towns wary of new 'granny pod' regulations

Three months after it was signed into law, an act allowing temporary health care structures on private property has several towns in the region concerned about its implementation, with three already opting out and others in the process.

Temporary health care structures, affectionately known as "granny pods," are small housing units that property owners can install to provide living space for a mentally or physically disabled person. The single-occupancy units, usually less than 500 square feet, are transportable and allow the person's caregiver to take care of them on-site rather than placing them in a nursing home.

Public Act No. 17-155, which passed in the state Senate, 36-0, and by the House, 142-8, in July and took effect in October, was co-sponsored by state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, and state Rep. Chris Soto, D-New London. It states that towns can't prohibit the installation of the structures as long as they comply with the town's zoning regulations. Only one structure can be built on each lot, and towns can set permit fees and create additional requirements, such as emergency vehicle access or utility connections with the primary house on the property.

The Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission decided in October to include a section called "Temporary Health Care Structures" in its Standard Zoning Enforcement Procedures manual to accommodate the provision. The section spells out a permitting process and requirements for such structures and mandates their removal within 120 days if they fall out of compliance.

Towns also have the option to opt out of the provision if their zoning commission holds a public hearing on the matter and then notifies the legislative body of its decision to opt out, providing specific reasons. From there, the issue would go to a town meeting or the board of selectmen or council for a final decision. 

New London's City Council voted on Jan. 2 to opt out, heeding the recommendation of the city Planning and Zoning Commission, which determined these "granny pods" could be problematic since the city's residential zones are so densely constructed with small lots. Zoning oversight of the pods, which would have to tie into existing sewer and water connections, could be problematic and/or unenforceable. Additionally, the city's existing regulations already allow for accessory apartments in attached structures by special permit.

Norwich also opted out of the provision with a City Council vote in October, citing many of the same space and enforcement concerns as New London officials. They also noted the need to preserve historic districts and the availability of multi-family and rental housing for people needing temporary housing for medical reasons.

The planning and zoning committees of Waterford and Montville have decided to opt out and are awaiting final votes in February from the Representative Town Meeting and Town Council, respectively.

Ledyard Mayor Fred Allyn III said his town opted out of the provision and will create its own zoning regulations for temporary health care structures. He said the collective feeling was that it was a good concept that wasn't fully vetted by the state. Instead, one idea was to consider garage conversion regulations that would create housing from a one- or two-car garage or the second floor of a garage with an internal stairwell.

The Salem Planning and Zoning Committee voted earlier this week not to adopt an amendment that would fit the provision into the town's regulations. Chairman Joe Duncan said the commission likely will discuss further in February and hold the public hearing to start the opt-out process in March.

Juliet Hodge, North Stonington's planning, development and zoning official, said that while she plans to bring it up in a future planning and zoning meeting, the town hasn't formally responded to the legislation yet and hasn't been approached by anyone interested in installing a temporary health care structure. She noted the town already allows accessory apartments in all residential zones and for any single-family residences legally placed in nonresidential zones.

Day staff writers Greg Smith, Claire Bessette, Benjamin Kail, Charles T. Clark and Joe Wojtas contributed to this story.


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