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Accessory dwelling expansion proposed

By Susan Mustapich | Jan 24, 2020
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Planning Board member Ethan Shaw speaks in favor of changes to accessory dwelling rules at the Jan. 23 meeting.

CAMDEN — The Planning Board will hold a public hearing on a proposed zoning change that expands the use of accessory dwellings.

The public hearing will be held Thursday, Feb. 6, during the Planning Board meeting. The meeting takes place at 5 p.m. in the French Conference Room on Washington Street.

Current zoning defines an accessory dwelling as a second unit within a single-family home, or in a building on the same lot as the single-family home. Zoning requires accessory dwellings to contain no more than 600 square feet of living space. The lot size requirements for accessory dwellings are lower than lot size requirements for multi-family dwellings.

Planning and Development Director Jeremy Martin brought the idea of expanding accessory dwellings to additional districts to the Select Board in September 2019. The Select Board supported development of this zoning change, which requires public approval at the polls. Martin had heard from homeowners who want to live in a smaller dwelling on their property and rent out the larger home, but who live in zones where this is not allowed.

Currently, accessory dwellings are allowed in five districts: Traditional Village, Village Extension, Highway Business, Transitional River Business District and Neighborhood Service District.

The proposed zoning change expands accessory dwellings to three additional districts,  Rural I and II, and Coastal Residential.

The proposed zoning change also removes the requirement that owners of lots with accessory dwellings live on the property.

Planning Board members agreed Jan. 23 to provide more flexibility to owners of lots with accessory dwellings. Owners would no longer have to live on the property, but instead the change requires that both dwellings are primary residences for the occupants. Primary residence is defined as "occupied by the same resident for a minimum of six consecutive months plus a day." This change came about at the suggestion of Steve Gold, who commented on the proposed ordinance at a prior meeting.

On Jan. 23, Gold raised the issue that proposed changes to accessory dwellings would prevent owners of these properties from having the opportunity to rent either dwelling short-term.

Planning Board members agreed that the expansion of accessory housing was not intended to create more opportunities for short-term rentals.

Planning Board Chairwoman Rosie Curtis said one purpose of the proposed zoning change is to promote aging in place. It could also increase the availability of year-round rental properties for those who live in Camden full-time, she said.

Board member Ethan Shaw said, "What it is really encouraging is families. It is encouraging people to move into the town and stay here and be full-time residents."

The proposal gives flexibility to owners, and does not encourage short-term rentals, he said.

Martin said the expansion of accessory dwellings around the country and on the Maine Coast is about providing housing in areas where there is a housing crunch. Accessory apartments can provide housing for small families, couples, and working professionals to live in this town, he said.

"We're not seeing residential development anywhere in the Midcoast," he said. "Housing is an issue. We desperately need housing to serve as primary residences."

Planning Board member Mark Siegenthaler said zoning to allow accessory apartments was developed to increase density in downtown areas. Martin confirmed that the proposed changes are consistent with the original purpose.

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