P&Z Considers New Apartment Regulations

Right now, Westport’s rules for “accessory apartments” (units in a principal dwelling) and “accessory dwelling units” (those in detached structures) are strict.

An owner of an accessory apartment must either be at least 62 years old, or the apartment must be deed restricted as “affordable” (which can limit the owner’s ability to easily resell or refinance).

The apartment can be no larger than 800 square feet or 25% of the floor areas (whichever is smaller), and there is an annual certification process.

This top-floor apartment is one of a limited number of legal ones n town.

Accessory structures of up to 300 square feet are permitted. However, they can have only 2 of these 3 three plumbing fixtures: sink, toilet or shower. Kitchens are not allowed. They cannot be rented out, and — importantly — they cannot be used as a dwelling unit.

These are not really “apartments.” They’re more like pool houses.

If the accessory structure is a barn, they cannot have bathrooms, kitchens or central heating. They must be used for livestock or storage of farm products, equipment and/or feed.

“Accessory Dwelling Units” — where people can actually live — have been permitted. But only with special approval, with evidence that the structure is “historic.”

But if the Planning & Zoning Commission’s Affordable Housing Subcommittee has its way — and they’ve approved the proposal unanimously — a text amendment would permit Accessory Dwelling Units throughout town.

It would open up our housing stock. It would add affordable housing. It would provide added income for residents who are going through life changes — the loss of a job, say, or divorce, or those whose children have moved away and who want to move into a smaller place on their own property, while renting out their larger home.

An apartment like this (which is not in Westport) is tightly regulated now.

The text amendment — on the P&Z agenda for this Thursday (April 8, 6 p.m., Zoom) would permit Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) on lots that do not have an Accessory Apartment, anywhere in town.

Lots of 1 1/2 acres or less could have a footprint of up to 650 square feet. Lots of more than 1 1/2 acres could have up to 1,000 square feet. The height of the structure would be capped, to guard against “monolithic tower-like ADUs.”

In addition, the owner of the property must live in either the principal or accessory dwelling. Any lease must be for a minimum of 6 months.

The P&Z will also consider modifications to its Accessory Apartment regulations. The age requirement would be removed, and the maximum size would increase from 800 square feet t0 1,500. However, the apartment could still not exceed 25% of the floor area of the entire house.

Gabled roof ADU, on Cape Cod.

The proposals are in keeping with the Affordable Housing Subcommittee’s mission of encouraging the development and preservation of affordable housing choices in Westport.

(Click here and scroll down for the full text amendment. The April 8 meeting will be livestreamed on www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020 until 7:30 p.m. Public comments may be sent before noon on April 8 to PandZ@westportct.gov.)

5 responses to “P&Z Considers New Apartment Regulations

  1. Michael Calise

    When I first ran for the RTM my campaign advocated accessory apartments. I recognized the need having been raised in a second floor apartment in my Grandparents home. In response our newly elected First Selectman John Kemish formed the Senior Citizen’s housing committee of which I was an appointed member and we wrote the existing Senior apartment regulation which seemed appropriate at the time. I commend the subcommittee for creating this proposed regulation. It is a step in the right direction which serves to benefit homeowners and those in need of housing in a direct and functional manner. Accessory apartments and detached apartment dwellings such as “garage apartments” have existed under the radar of Westport zoning officials for years. Some people fear them as threats to the character of our community but actually they are an enhancement to our towns character because of the diversity of housing options and financial security they provide. For those that think there will be an explosion of apartments this is simply not true. Most of our area towns allow accessory apartments as of right. In fact the Town of Redding allows them in detached structures such as is being advocated in this proposed regulation. My experience personally and in the Real Estate Business has shown me that these opportunities are not excessively taken and that it is just as likely for new homeowners to eliminate or not use an apartment as a rental unit for the sake of privacy. In my opinion this regulation may need some adjustments but I see it as critical for approval. My only regret is that our now resigned Republican members who held the overwhelming majority of knowledge and experience on the commission will not be participating and voting members on this issue.

  2. Can anyone explain why so many or our RTM members resigned en masse this way? I’ve lived in Westport for over 30 years and am finding this a little odd.

  3. joshua stein

    How does it compare with what Fairfield just did? Sounds similar… Might be worth comparing to a neighboring town..

  4. I just want to echo what Michael Calise said! We need not fear a diversity of housing that in a number of cases is already happening under the radar in Westport.It’s much better we innovate locally instead of being subjected to monolithic mandates from the State. Nicely done Michael and as always thanks for your rich historical perspective.

    Art Schoeller
    Greens Farms Association