Middletown to Opt Out of Accessory Apartment Law, Draft Town Regulations

Middletown, Credit: Google Map Data, 2021

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MIDDLETOWN – Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission said they intend to opt out of the state’s new rules for accessory apartments “for the right reasons,” promising a rewrite of the city’s own accessory dwelling regulations will come first.

Towns and cities have until Jan. 1 to decide whether to opt out of a state law that will allow accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, by right on single-family lots.

Several members of the Middletown commission said they were in favor of changing the city’s regulations to align with the state law, but said they were worried that they would be locked into something that could cause problems down the road if they didn’t opt out and keep their zoning regulations separate.

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“I want us to be the ones to break down the barriers [to ADUs in Middletown],” alternate commissioner Kellin Atherton said during a public hearing Wednesday night. “I think that some neighboring towns in the region have done us a disservice by opting out for the wrong reasons. It is my feeling that we want to opt out for the right reasons – so we can write this ourselves.”

Middletown Planning Director Marek Kozikowski proposed opting out of the state law, which would nullify the city’s existing ADU regulations if they don’t decide to opt out before the end of the year. Opting out would allow the commission to write its own regulations “in a way that best suits Middletown’s housing demands.”

Several people urged the commission not to opt out of the state law, saying Middletown needs ADUs as a housing option, especially for elderly people to live with their families in “in-law apartments” and to provide lower-cost housing for people who work in Middletown.

Middletown resident Michael Kilkelly said that he has been trying to build an accessory apartment for his parents – initially considering converting an existing detached garage, then planning an addition to his family house. 

Neither option was allowed under Middletown’s zoning code, which requires ADUs to be attached. And Kelly said he was told his proposed addition wouldn’t be allowed because it “altered the basic character of the building as a single-family dwelling.”

“My dream is to have my parents live with me and my family on our property,” Kelly said. “I want them to have their independence, I want them to have their own space, but I want to be there [when they need me].”

Commissioner Seb Giuliano said he wasn’t opposed to making it easier for people to have ADUs in Middletown, but what was “nerve-wracking” about the state law is that it ties Middletown into a “one-size fits all” set of rules without the ability to adjust them if needed.

“I find it egregious that you can’t get your parents into a building that exists on your property that you are clearly capable of redesigning to make it work,” Giuliano said. “I think everybody on this commission is well motivated to give our citizens and property owners as much ability to use their land as best as possible.”

Middletown resident Krishna Winston said that Middletown’s current ADU regulations effectively force people to have ADUs that are only for members of their own family, if at all. They require any ADU to not only be connected to a house, but to have an interior connecting door and a combined utility bill.

Citing the 2019 Plan of Conservation and Development, Winston said that Middletown is in a good situation compared to most towns because almost 23 percent of its housing stock is considered affordable by state law. 

Despite comparatively more affordable housing, 26 percent of homeowners and 47 percent of renters are cost burdened, she said – meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. 

Middletown resident Brooke Carta and others urged the commission to hold off on opting out of the state law until they are able to pass the new regulations, which the commission agreed to do. It now plans to consider its own new ADU regulations and whether to opt out of the state law at a meeting in late November. The Common Council would also have to agree to opt out of the state law, and they would have December to decide.

Winston said that she has felt for a long time that the zoning code needed to be rewritten, but was worried about how much time town staff and the commission had to do that.

Guiliano asked if anyone objected to simply taking the provisions of the state law and adopting them as Middletown’s regulations for ADUs, which would be less time consuming than writing completely new regulations.

“If [the commission adopts them ourselves], they’re not going to be cast in stone, and if we decide, ‘You know what, this really isn’t working,’ we can change it,” Giuliano said. “But these are good provisions. I think they’re good ideas. Why don’t we just start with them and adopt them as our own?”