With time running out, the Stamford Zoning Board Monday voted to opt out of a state law that would allow accessory apartments on all single-family lots.
Under the law, the Zoning Board had to initiate the opt-out, but members decided that, because Stamford was one of the few towns in Fairfield County that did not allow what the state calls accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, they would pass their own regulations first.
They did that in September and now have opted out of what members described as “one size fits all” regulations from the state.
“Congratulations,” Zoning Board Chairman David Stein told the members after the vote. “Our regulations are tailored to meet Stamford’s needs, and retaining local control allows us to modify for future needs and experience gained.”
Zoning Board member Rosanne McManus said she thinks “everyone wants us to opt out.”
“We’ve been getting public comment on this … since last year,” McManus said. “I can’t remember one Stamford citizen saying they think we should opt in. It doesn’t happen often that it’s so unanimous.”
“Yes,” Stein said, “maybe never.”
The state gave towns until Dec. 31 to complete the prescribed opt-out procedure. It next goes before the Board of Representatives’ Land Use Committee Thursday, and then the full board on Nov. 7.
The Zoning Board’s vote Monday was preceded by a public hearing that was sparsely attended, likely because it was Halloween. Citizens who spoke raised another issue that appeared to draw agreement – they want the Zoning Board to take another look at the ADU regulations they passed on Sept. 28.
It’s no surprise. For a decade citizens have reported neighborhood congestion created by illegal apartments, illegally parked commercial vehicles on residential streets, and poorly planned development. Many have said they think ADUs will add to the strain.
“The ADU regulations should be revisited,” Jeff Gatz of Pond Road told the Zoning Board during the Zoom meeting. “Let’s make sure we plan appropriately going forward.”
“I hope this will open more discourse,” said Paula Waldman of Old North Stamford Road.
Zoning Board members indicated it will.
“The board is always willing to consider changes to our regulations when we see they are not working as we intended,” Stein said.
“We really want to annually take a look at what has happened, to see if we need to tweak the regulations,” McManus said.
Most towns in Fairfield County have already opted out of the law, designed to increase access to housing in Connecticut, which has a critical shortage of units. It was so controversial that when lawmakers in Hartford – including Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons, then a state representative – pushed it through the Legislature last year they included the opt-out to get it across the finish line.
The state law would:
- Allow ADUs as of right on all single-family lots regardless of size
- Allow ADUs as large as 1,000 square feet
- Not require the owner to live on premises
- Prohibit towns from requiring a family or employee relationship between the house occupant and the ADU occupant
- Not limit the number of ADU occupants
- Require no more than one parking space
The Stamford Zoning Board regulations say:
- Only single-family homes on lots larger than 10,000 square feet may add an ADU
- The ADU may be no larger than 800 square feet
- The single-family home and the ADU must meet all zoning standards
- The homeowner must live in either the house or the ADU
- Occupancy of the ADU is limited to three persons
- The unit must have at least one off-street parking space
- ADUs cannot be used for short-term rentals, such as AirBnB
The Board of Representatives’ Land Use Committee is prepared to vote when members meet over Zoom at 7 p.m. Thursday, said the chair, city Rep. Bradley Bewkes. Support for opting out appears to be widespread, including among the full board and the Simmons administration, Bewkes said after Monday’s meeting.
“What the administration wanted was to allow ADUs in some shape or form, and now we have them officially,” Bewkes said.
But people in his District 1, which is the waterfront Shippan neighborhood, aren’t happy, Bewkes said.
“I’m getting a lot of emails from people saying we should not have ADUs at all. They’re saying, ‘I don’t want more condensed living in my neighborhood,’” Bewkes said. “Nobody in District 1 is out there saying, ‘I love ADUs. Put them everywhere.’”
His committee co-chair, city Rep. Nina Sherwood, represents the Cove and East Side, which are more congested neighborhoods. But, as in Shippan, Cove and East Side residents are concerned that ADUs now are allowed in Stamford, said Sherwood, the board’s majority leader.
“It’s not just members of the public – members of the Board of Representatives are not happy with the regulations the Zoning Board passed,” Sherwood said. “I communicated that to the Zoning Board chairman who said he’s not against looking at the regulations again.”
First, the committee must vote on a recommendation for the full board, which then may opt out with a ⅔ majority.
“That’s urgent,” Sherwood said. “After that we have as much time as we need to tweak the regulations we have.”