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Government Opinion Reader Contributed

Op-Ed: Why You Should Care About Accessory Dwelling Units

According to Town of West Hartford records, there are only 70 Accessory Dwelling Units – such as this guest house behind a larger home – documented in West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The West Hartford Town Council plans to consider an ordinance to expand its zoning related to Accessory Dwelling Units.

By Holly Parker

Renting out an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) in your backyard can provide necessary income to remain in West Hartford – if you hope to age-in-place, if you feel housing options are becoming unaffordable, or if you want/need to reduce your car use by living near transit stops, essential services and retail, and good schools. On a macro scale it will lower the cost of rents in West Hartford.

Although amended this century, the original language in West Hartford’s zoning code governing accessory buildings is 100 years old.

The current conditions under which an ADU is permitted are 1.) for a guest/domestic employee unit (which may NOT contain kitchen facilities); or 2.) if specific lot area requirements are met – in which case, the dwelling is limited to three rooms that DO contain kitchen facilities. Perhaps partly because of the complexity and specificity of the regulation, only 70 such structures have been documented in West Hartford in a recent survey. This equates to a half of one percent of all housing units.

An updated zoning ordinance permitting Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in West Hartford defines an ADU as “a secondary residential unit which shares a single-family lot with a larger primary residence and has a self-contained kitchen, bathroom and bedroom,” as articulated in this memo from our Town Planner, Todd Dumais.

As a transportation planner, I see everything through the lens of easy and safe access to places and people. So when my 78-year-old stepmom asked me the other day what kind of community she and my dad should be considering as they age-in-place, my first thought was that it had to be walkable. Having goods, services, and contact with others within a short walking distance is the best way I know of to assure their continued physical and mental health. Walkable means exercise, access, and … freedom.

Having those goods, services and people nearby means that there has to be housing close to them. Through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Cantor, at a special Town Council meeting on Sept. 21, stated that, “the last months have shown us the importance of flexibility in living spaces,” adding “… having the ability to separate somebody who needs to be isolated but still connected to family in some way – would be a lifeline for many people right now.”

Parents of college students are suddenly pondering how to have a safe, separate, and affordable (or free) place to put their remote-learning offspring. The ability to build an ADU without onerous administrative burden or restriction is among the solutions.

I ask you to weigh in on this matter because in the future ADUs will allow West Hartford to provide more affordable housing opportunities to individuals and families that grow our town equitably and sustainably. Those ADUs that conform with existing building parameters are a nice alternative to large apartment complexes that generally require an overabundance of parking.

The Desegregate CT campaign is among the first root-of-the-problem, wholistic solutions I have seen put forth in my 13 years as a Connecticut resident. Desegregate CT builds a viable path to equity across all sectors, including housing, transportation, and access to jobs by encouraging new zoning codes and policies.

Please let the West Hartford Town Council and your local representatives know your thoughts.

Or – more specifically:

Contact the West Hartford Town Council members through their contact information at this link on the Town’s website.

Contact your local representatives through this link.

Holly Parker is the owner and founder of Less Road Traveled LLC, a West Hartford-based strategic planning services for sustainable transportation, land use, and environmental initiatives.

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