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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1 thought on “Residents can still comment on ‘granny pod’ zoning issue”

  1. Iu2019m surprised at how little public involvement there seems to have been on such an important topic. I presume this is because the topic is loaded with technical details about things like duration and setbacks that make the whole concept seem difficult to administer and therefore cloud the underlying question: u201cShould we make it easier for residents to care for their elderly or disabled family members at home.u201d State lawmakers in five states (including CT) have said u201cYESu201d to this question. Fortunately, the details are NOT difficult to manage and the benefits of smart regulations allowing Temporary Healthcare Structures (THSs) are numerous. What we need is a common-sense approach to implementation, not a kick-the-can response to a few concerns.nnAn appropriate THS law benefits residents in two ways. First and most directly, it gives families another option for providing care for family members. Over 4 million seniors already live with their families, twice the number that live in assisted living and nursing homes, and THSs simply give families a more convenient, more dignified way to care for family members at home. Second, it reduces state spending on Medicaid. 70% of seniors who reside in nursing homes are on Medicaid, meaning that their room and board cost is largely funded by tax dollars. A significant percentage of these residents have u201clow care needsu201d, meaning they need something less than full-time care. THSs allow these residents another option, reducing the financial burden on states and taxpayers.nnThe concerns most commonly voiced about the law are about who should be eligible to use a THS and for how long, and how the city can effectively enforce those requirements. THS laws in four states stipulate that the permit holder is a family member, and enforcing this provision is no more difficult than enforcing that residents in any u201csingle family residentialu201d home are indeed members of the same family. In CT the state law is written slightly more broadly, allowing other unpaid u201cagentsu201d to qualify as caregivers, but this language can be easily clarified as a legal custodian. As for whether the caregiver is paid, the intent of the law is to keep people from setting up THSs on their property and operating them as a business. This possibility is likely already addressed by existing u201chome-based businessu201d regulations, but when both the permit holder and the resident of the THS are family members this point is moot. Concerns about whether one family member is receiving any form of compensation from another family member are just a smokescreen.nnThe average length of stay in a nursing home is just under one year, and in assisted living itu2019s just over two years. While many experts agree that family caregiving is likely to extend lifespans above what is expected in nursing homes and other senior living facilities, the most likely period of time that a THS would be on a property is somewhere around two years. Some residents envision a travel trailer parked in their neighboru2019s driveway for two years, but an actual product looks like a small cottage home. See http://www.evernest.net for an example. In all probability, existing laws already allow something like this to be erected on the property. The THS regulation simply expedites the approval timeline for a family with an urgent health-based need.nnThe most effective way to enforce removal of the THS when it is no longer needed is for the city to require a performance bond from the THS provider (assuming a rental arrangement). There is already precedent for arrangements like this, and the THS provider would be responsible for self-enforcement. The city could permit the THS companies, much the way cities permit UBER drivers, so if the company fails to self-police it would loose the right to do business in that city.nnIn short, just because the details of implementing a game-changing new idea are somewhat messy at the start doesnu2019t mean we should dismiss the idea. With the cost of providing later-in-life care rapidly escalating out of the reach of many families, we all need to be trying to implement innovative, less expensive options.

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