NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk is likely to attempt opting out of new State legislation on accessory use apartments. Not because Norwalk objects to “ADUs” but because the City already its own legislation to allow accessory apartments, which might need a tweak but not to be overridden by the State version, Zoning Commissioners said.
Public Act 21-29, which revises a section of Connecticut zoning statutes, includes a definition of accessory use apartments. “If you don’t opt out, this state statute becomes your minimum regulation, meaning you cannot be any stricter than that ever,” Principal Planner Bryan Baker said at last week’s joint Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.
While there’s a feeling out there that the new State legislation will help address affordable housing needs, Norwalk’s experience doesn’t indicate that’s likely, Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin said. The city has been allowing accessory apartments “in a pretty similar form,” and there are only something like 300 approved.
The bill requires that accessory apartments as described by sold or rented as affordable for folks making 80% or less of the median income, meaning not more than 30% of the tenant’s income, for at least a decade. The bill became law Friday. A municipality can opt out of changed parking requirements by holding a public hearing and subsequently achieving a two-thirds majority on its legislative body in favor of opting out.
If a municipality fails to opt out by Jan. 1, 2023, then the State code will replace the local code. Baker said he’d been advised that if a municipality disagrees with 1% of the law, then it needs to opt out.
“I think it is a bit of a funny contradiction” that Norwalk would opt out and make “pretty small changes” in the statutory language, leading folks to think Norwalk is rejecting the accessory apartments when in reality, “we’re way ahead of the curve on things like ADUs, which are pretty popular,” Zoning Commissioner Joshua Goldstein said.
There are 259 accessory apartments in Norwalk, Baker said. Accessory apartments are allowed in the single-family residence zones.
The big difference is the State version allows detached apartments, while Norwalk only allows them within the home, he explained. The State allows apartments at the same maximum height for a house, 35 feet, but the floor area restriction probably negates that, he said.
“As the statute reads it’s 30% of your house or 1,000 square feet, whichever is less. Right now, we only allow up to 700 square feet,” he said. “So with that restriction, you’re probably not likely to see 35 foot high accessory apartments, but I would never say never in the world of zoning.”
A garage can’t be more than 15 feet high, he said.
There’s also a periodic permit renewal clause.
“We require you to submit an affidavit just to say that you’re still using your accessory apartment, or that you’re still renting it out. Whether that’s technically periodic renewal of your permit, I think is yet to be determined,” Baker said.
Planning Commission Chairwoman Frances DiMeglio said detached apartments, like over a garage, would be very helpful for families trying to take care of loved ones without putting them in assisted living.
You can opt out and still have detached apartments, Baker said. The local regulation needs to be changed and perhaps the maximum height could be 20 feet.
“Most garages are in between 12 and 15 feet high measured to the midpoint,” Baker said. “So you know, your peak, you’d maybe add three or four feet to that. So reasonably, if you were going to put something that has enough headroom to have an accessory apartment, you probably be looking, you’re looking more at 20 feet, in order to kind of have your 10-foot first floor for your garage, and then your 10 feet for the for the apartment.”
“They can be detached if they’re done tastefully,” Kleppin said. “…We just don’t think the language as it’s written is great. And we could probably add a few safeguards and still get the same result.”
The proposals would likely go to public hearing, Kleppin said. Opting out would require a two-thirds vote by the Commission and the Common Council.
Updated, 12:10 p.m.: More information.