A recent analysis of municipal plans to meet Connecticut’s huge need for 85,000 affordable housing units ranked Stamford first of 17 cities in Fairfield County.
Other cities have resisted plans to change zoning regulations and expand housing options, the analysis found. But Stamford has programs offering below-market rentals and Section 8 vouchers, an Affordable Housing Trust Fund and requirements for builders to include affordable housing in new developments.
The result is that Stamford is creating more affordable housing by far than any other town in Fairfield County.
But, until Wednesday evening, Stamford did not allow ADUs.
It’s the state’s acronym for Accessory Dwelling Units – apartments on single family home lots. ADUs can be built in a basement, attic, or on top of a garage; attached to a house or detached in the yard.
With the exception of Bridgeport, every city in the region has allowed ADUs, with varying restrictions. But Stamford – perhaps because there is little buildable space left, or because it has a huge illegal flats problem, or both – never did.
Then, on Wednesday, four members of the Zoning Board voted unanimously to enact the ADU bylaw:
- Only single-family homes on lots over 10,000 square feet can add an ADU
- ADU must not exceed 800 square feet
- Single family home and ADU must meet all zoning standards
- The owner must live either in the house or in the ADU
- ADU occupancy is limited to three people
- The landlord must provide at least one off-street parking space for the ADU tenant
- ADUs cannot be used for short-term rentals, such as AirBnB
Most of the four-hour meeting was taken up with residents at a public hearing on ADUs, and members of the zoning board finalizing their draft bylaws. ADUs became controversial when the state legislature voted last year to allow them to be added to every Connecticut single-family lot, with few restrictions.
The law, designed to increase the number of housing units in the state, comes with an opt-out clause: any city can reject the state mandate if it votes to do so before Jan. 1. So far in the region, Greenwich, Darien, Norwalk, Danbury, Bridgeport, Fairfield, Stratford, Westport, Weston, Wilton, Monroe, Redding and Milford have pulled out.
Stamford is hitting the deadline because zoning board members have said they want to craft their own ADU bylaws before voting on whether to step down.
According to state rules, zoning board members must now hold a public hearing and vote. If they decide to withdraw, the Council of Representatives must approve their decision by a majority of ⅔.
The eleventh-hour aspect was not lost on residents who convened the virtual Zoning Board meeting on Wednesday evening. They said they were concerned Stamford might miss the Jan. 1 deadline and the state mandate would come into effect with unique zoning.
“The state doesn’t have to control local zoning,” said John Delelle of Sun Dance Road. “Let’s deactivate now, then come up with a good plan.”
Maureen Boylan of Seaview Avenue said she doesn’t “understand why every town around us has pulled out and Stamford hasn’t”.
There has been little “community discussion about it,” Boylan said. “Disable already, then figure out the regulations.”
George Dallas of Dundee Road told Zoning Board members they “had made a good effort” to draft regulations.
“But you’re going in reverse,” Dallas said. “Turn off first, then work on it.”
Dallas said the proposed rule does not address the range of problems ADUs could create, such as building them on homes connected to septic tanks.
Bureau of Land Use chief Ralph Blessing said anyone wishing to build an ADU would need to complete an application for planning permission which will be reviewed by the Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Board.
“We have a stipulation that you can’t have an ADU if there isn’t enough septic capacity,” Blessing said.
Several residents have raised Stamford’s poor record in enforcing zoning regulations. In too many neighborhoods, they said, single-family homes are illegally subdivided into multi-family homes; apartments are added without building permits or compliance with fire and health codes; commercial trucks park illegally on residential streets; homes are split into AirBnB rentals; and other undetected violations.
“I don’t know how Stamford is going to enforce this,” said Sandy Menendez of Upland Road. “I think it would open up Stamford to out-of-town investors who would buy homes and turn them into business entities. There is a house in my neighborhood that started out as an illegal ADU and ended up selling as a multi-family home. There are now seven to ten cars in the driveway and several vehicles on the street, including utility vehicles. The owner lives in New Canaan. The neighbors inform the city of the situation and the city says there is nothing you can do about it.
Michael Yacenda of Hunting Ridge Road said ADUs will create consequences that zoning board members did not consider. Members need to “talk to more people,” Yacenda said.
“I have a common driveway with four houses. I wouldn’t want four other rental units trying to share it,” Yacenda said. “That driveway would be a real nightmare.”
Some callers have said the Zoning Board’s requirement for off-street parking is inadequate.
“If the regulations allow three adults in an ADU and all three have cars, and there is only one parking space, then two of the cars will park on the street,” Morgan Harris said. of Alton Road. “On my street, parking is only allowed on one side. Where are the extra cars going? Are you going to limit street parking? »
Scott Hollas of Fairmont Avenue said he was concerned that ADUs would lead to more “homeowners parking on their lawns, as they do in my neighborhood now.”
But Dice Oh, who lives on Tresser Boulevard, said it was ‘not wise to require an additional parking space’ and the requirement should be removed.
The zoning board should also remove the cap on how many people can live in an ADU, Oh said.
“It discriminates against families,” he said.
The housing shortage is severe, resulting in high rents and low vacancy rates, Oh said.
“ADUs are the smallest change people can make to expand housing supply,” he said. “There are cities that have done it and the changes are incremental.”
Indeed, Norwalk has licensed ADUs since 1982, Blessing said, and only 256 have been built since then, an average of about six a year.
Will Wright of Pepper Ridge Road called in to say he was also in favor of using ADUs to alleviate the housing shortage.
“I am against making it more difficult to add to our housing stock. Anything you can do helps,” Wright said. “And it’s good to have options as an owner.”
Jordan Force, who lives in an apartment on Washington Boulevard, agreed there should be few restrictions. He supports ADUs so strongly that he thinks people shouldn’t just praise them.
“You should be able to sell ADUs, like a condo,” Force said.
Hollas and Harris said the requirement that the owner live on the property is crucial.
“Properties are often degraded by lack of care when the owner is not around,” Hollas said.
“The owners will be in the community, so if there are any issues, they can be brought to them,” Harris said.
Blackberry Drive’s Sue Swidler agreed.
“If the owner is not there, why does he need an ADU? Swidler asked. “Why doesn’t he rent his house? »
And so on the comments went, oscillating between support and opposition. A recent retiree said an ADU would provide income, allow him to age in place, or make room for a live-in caregiver. One woman said there are streets in Stamford so congested with parked cars that “you can’t get a fire truck down them”, and the ADUs will make it worse.
After some debate, Zoning Board members made a change to their proposed bylaw: the minimum lot size allowed for ADUs was reduced from 11,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet.
The board agreed to take a year to observe how the regulations work and then review them.
A date for the Zoning Board’s public hearing on whether to opt out of the state mandate is expected to be set in the coming days, Blessing said. The board will likely vote on the opt-out at the same meeting, “unless there’s so much public comment that the meeting should go ahead,” Blessing said.