GREENFIELD — Town Council has taken the first step to amend Greenfield’s Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance, which allows in-law apartments in town.
The council voted unanimously to initiate a zoning change during a special meeting Thursday night. The change, proposed by Council Vice President Isaac Mass, would transfer special permit granting authority to the Zoning Board of Appeals and clarify language about when waivers for conditions outlined in the ordinance can be granted.
The Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance, approved by Town Council in August 2016, makes it legal for residents to build up to 900-square-foot apartments either as an addition, as new detached structures or inside existing detached structures, like garages or carriage houses.
Detached structures must currently receive a special permit from the Planning Board, but under the proposal, that authority would be transferred to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which handles most other special permits in town.
During this week’s Economic Development Committee meeting, Mass said language in the current ordinance about when a waiver can be granted is “overly vague.”
“What’s important about this amendment is it clarifies when they can waive the rules and when they can’t waive the rules, because prior to this it was a much more open question,” he said. “I think it’s comprehensive enough that it allows some flexibility for the special permit granting authority to make decisions on a case-by-case basis, but it also contemplates the fact that there’s probably going to be occasions when neighbors don’t agree.”
During Thursday’s meeting, Mass said he believes all special permits should be handled by the ZBA. Additionally, he said there was some public criticism that the Planning Board, which drafted the ordinance, was too eager to grant a special permit for the first detached structure that came before it.
“Having a separate set of eyes looking, at least at these initial applications, seems to make sense,” Mass said.
Patrick Devlin, a former town councilor, told the Economic Development Committee he’d like to see an amendment made to the ordinance that would prohibit detached dwelling units from being further than 20 or 25 feet from the main house. Devlin’s neighbor, Marcia Vincent, was the first — and currently only — resident to apply for a special permit for a detached dwelling unit.
Devlin and his wife, Lynne Ballard, filed an appeal in Franklin County Superior Court after the Planning Board approved a special permit for the dwelling. Devlin and Ballard said the process was fraught with problems and the board failed to address their biggest concerns about drainage from the structure damaging their property. Vincent originally planned to build the dwelling 100 feet from her home.
“While I think that’s certainly a topic of debate, I think it’s best considered as a separate amendment,” Mass said of Devlin’s suggestion.
The Economic Development Committee and Planning Board will schedule a joint public hearing on the proposed change, the Planning Board will make a recommendation, then the council will vote on the amendment during a future meeting.