Residents can still comment on ‘granny pod’ zoning issue

Residents will have additional opportunity to comment on a proposal for Milford to permit temporary residences in single-family zones to allow people to care for mentally or physically impaired family members.

Only five people attended and one person commented on the proposal at the Jan. 16 Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) public hearing. The board is holding open the public hearing for its February meetings, which will take place Feb. 6 and 20 at 7:30 p.m. in the City Hall auditorium.

The P&Z conducted the hearing in response to a state law that took effect Oct. 1, 2017. The law is euphemistically known as the ‘granny pod’ law, although the wording does not mention any age guidelines.

Public Act No. 17-55 “An Act Concerning Temporary Health Care Structures,” championed by State Sen. Cathy Osten (D-Sprague), and supported by Milford’s legislative delegation, was signed into law in July 2017 by Gov. Dannel Malloy (D).

The law sets requirements for the structures, including defining it as a “transportable residential structure,” which is assembled off-site, has one occupant who is mentally or physically impaired, is not larger than 500 gross square feet, is not placed on a permanent foundation, and must meet setback requirements for accessory buildings. The structure must be placed on property owned by an unpaid caregiver, or the person in need of care.

The legislation gives towns the opportunity to opt out of the new law, provided it conducts a public hearing on the issue and states the reason for its decision in a newspaper having a substantial circulation in that town.

In a Jan. 9 memo to the P&Z, City Planner David B. Sulkis wrote that the city has three options under the law: allow the installation of such structures, opt out of the act and create its own regulations using provisions of the act, or opt out and not allow this type of use. He wrote that the city attorney’s office recommends the city choose the third option and opt out.

At the meeting Sulkis reviewed his memo, which included the facts that a structure could be installed as long as it meets the city’s accessory structure regulations, and is connected to utilities. The city would have 15 days to issue a permit.

Speaking by phone the day after the meeting, City Attorney Jonathan Berchem said a number of municipalities have opted out due to concerns of how the law could be exploited.

As one example, he said a homeowner could designate themselves a caregiver and not charge for care, but require rent payments for the structure. Another concern is that the way the act is written, the city cannot deny a permit.

“The potential for the act to be exploited to the detriment of current residents is too great under the current framework,” said Berchem.

Berchem said the city already has regulations to allow for accessory apartments, and could look at changing its regulations to allow for health care structures.

While the P&Z is conducting the hearing, the Board of Aldermen will make the ultimate decision in Milford.

The sole comment came from Lauren Larkin of 85 Viscount Drive, who said she favored having the city accept the law. Larkin said her father lives out of state and is in need of healthcare and the minimal cost is $10,000 per month for a nursing home.

“That is not affordable to any person,” said Larkin.

Larkin told a poignant story of how when she was raising three children many years ago, her grandmother needed assistance, but she had no room in her house for her, and the grandmother instead moved to a nursing home “and went downhill fast.

“I still feel guilty to this day that there wasn’t something else I could do,” said Larkin. “I think this would be a great option.”

Looking to the future, she said if she was in need of care and her children did not have room for her, “how great it would be to have a little structure in their yard.”

The law would not allow someone like Larkin to place a structure on her current property, as she lives at Heritage Sound Condominiums.

After her testimony, board Chairman Jim Quish said the board would hold open the hearing for the next couple of meetings, so the board could hear further input from the public. The hearing must close by March 8.

The full text of the law may be read at “https://www.cga.ct.gov/2017/act/pa/pdf/2017PA-00155-R00SB-00922-PA.pdf

The Connecticut Chapter of the American Planning Association has a presentation on housing options for senior citizens called “What’s the Side-Yard Setback for Grandma?” at  “https://westcog.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Granny-Pod-Presentation.pdf”

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