New London City Council considers opting out of accessory dwelling law
New London ― City councilors at a public hearing Monday questioned whether it would be a good idea to adopt state-recommended regulations on accessory dwellings.
Also referred to as accessory apartments, the dwellings are small residential units — such as garage apartments or "mother-in-law suites" — that can attached to, or detached from, a home.
A new state law permits accessory apartments anywhere residential uses are permitted without a special permit or public hearing.
The legislation, Public Act. 21-29, went into effect Jan. 1, and municipalities can choose whether to "opt out" of the law up until Jan. 1, 2023.
Opting out would allow planning and zoning commissions in towns and cities to keep or change current regulations.
A recording of the public hearing indicates that City Council President Efraín Dominguez gave councilors the opportunity to ask questions about the law since no members of the public spoke.
Councilors present besides Dominguez were Akil Peck, Reona Dyess, James Burke and Jocelyn Rosario.
The Planning and Zoning Commission has voted to opt out of the legislation and awaits the city council’s decision.
Barry Levine, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, explained to the councilors that New London was not a target when the state legislature passed the public act.
“There are towns in Connecticut that do not permit accessory apartments in any shape or form, but New London does,” said Levine.
Levine said that since 2003, the city has had regulations that allow accessory apartments. Reading from a copy of the 12 requirements, he said accessory apartments are only allowed with a single-family dwelling and only one is allowed per building.
The city’s regulations require that the owner of the residence with an accessory unit must reside in one of the dwellings, its maximum floor area should not exceed 25% of the floor areas of the main dwelling, only principal buildings in existence as of June 1, 2005 may be used for accessory apartments, and more.
Levine said there is no requirement in the state law that the units be occupied by the property owner. He said there were a couple of situations that worry him, such as seeing a “blossoming” of short-term rentals.
He added that opting out would give the commission the ability to change its regulations when its sees a problem while opting in would require action by the General Assembly in order to make changes.
Burke said he politely disagreed with Levine. He said that he is very proud of the delegation the city has in the General Assembly and representatives Christine Conley, Joe de la Cruz and Anthony Nolan all voted in favor of the legislation.
“We have an opportunity to lead by example and opt-in into the affordable housing legislation that they voted in favor of,” he said, adding that Montville had voted to opt out of the public act.
Levine said the city does an admirable job providing affordable housing, and the purpose of the legislature was to encourage other communities to do their fair share. He added that the public act as well as the city’s regulations do not require the accessory units to be affordable.
Dominguez said when the city opts out, the Planning and Zoning Commission already has set regulations on accessory dwellings and anybody can apply for a permit.
“We’re going to have certain control and that to me sounds good,” Dominguez said.
Dyess said she likes local control, but also wants to encourage people to think about the needs in the community.