GREENFIELD — The town’s Planning Board had to grapple with a new question during discussion of its most recent application for a detached in-law apartment — do attached garages count toward total floor area, which is limited under the town’s ordinance?
Noting that the decision will be precedent-setting, the board decided after an hour of discussion Thursday that the garage does not count toward living space. This is the second special permit the board has granted for a detached unit since the town passed an Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance last year.
During the meeting, the board approved a special permit to the Evans family for their property at 61 Pleasant St., with four members voting in favor of the permit and one abstaining. The Evans plan to build a 900-square-foot in-law apartment, which also includes an attached two-car garage and a greenhouse, behind the family’s main house. The home sits on 0.8 acres and is owned by Edward Evans.
“This ordinance is forward-thinking and allows for families to share resources and for our elders to age in place,” Edward Evans’ son, Tristan Evans, said. “The purpose of this project is for housing for myself and my family. We’ve lived at this property for 40 years and intend to raise our son here.”
The board previously heard from neighbors during a public hearing — all of whom were in favor of the project.
Tristan Evans designed the structure himself and said the architecture of the dwelling was dictated by passive solar technology, and the garage is aligned to support solar panels. The structure also includes an attached 128-square-foot greenhouse.
“We’re trying to offset both the power needs of the ADU and offset some of the power needs of the main house, as well,” he said. “A big part of our vision for this property has to do with sustainability, including food, and we want to be able to use that greenhouse to be a support system for the garden.”
During the deliberative process, Planning Board members had to decide whether the proposed 675-square-foot garage counts as living space, as accessory dwellings can only be up to 900-square feet or one-third the total floor area of the main home, whichever is greater.
In the Evans’ case, the total floor area of the main house is 3,964 square feet, and the square footage of the accessory dwelling would be greater than one-third of that if the garage were counted.
The board decided the garage is not considered living space and therefore should not count toward the total floor area of the structure. Garages are allowed as an accessory to in-law apartments by special permit under town zoning.
“If you’re saying the garage is not part of the square footage of the ADU, then you can also approve the garage as part of this ADU,” Director of Planning and Development Eric Twarog told the board.
Planning Board Vice Chairman George Touloumtzis abstained from voting, saying he was uncomfortable with the precedent-setting idea of including a garage when granting a special permit for an accessory dwelling unit. Touloumtzis said he would have felt more comfortable if the applicants had come back for a second special permit for the garage.
Town Council passed an Accessorry Dwelling Unit Ordinance in August 2016 that makes it legal for residents to build the in-law apartments either inside existing owner-occupied homes, as additions, as new detached structures or inside existing detached structures, like garages or carriage houses. Detached dwellings must receive a special permit from the Planning Board.
As a condition of the special permit, the board has required the Evans to plant vegetative screening along the northwest corner of their property to help block views of the structure.
This latest special permit process has been significantly less controversial than the Planning Board’s previous special permit application. In December 2016, neighbors of the previous applicant appealed the board’s decision to grant a special permit in Superior Court, saying the process was fraught with problems. The applicant had her special permit annulled in April, leading to an agreement between the neighbors and the town on the dismissal of the lawsuit.