'Granny Pod' law still up in the air in Milford

The Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) will take another vote on the issue of temporary residences for impaired family members at its Feb. 20 meeting, to revisit a motion proposed at its Feb. 6 meeting.

A motion to opt out of a new state law, which some have referred to as the “granny pod” law, failed by a 5-5 vote. When the board was prepared to vote on another motion to opt out with the understanding the board would craft its own regulations on the issue, Board Chairman Jim Quish said there would be no second vote and he moved to the next item on the agenda.

But City Planner David B. Sulkis later said Quish should not have done that.

Speaking by phone on Feb. 7, Sulkis said the board would vote on that motion at its Feb. 20 meeting.

“The board needs to revote it because the chair improperly ended the proceedings. He can’t just ignore the motion,” said Sulkis.

When the board conducted a public hearing on Jan. 26, it received one comment from a resident who saw value in the law. Following that testimony, Quish proposed holding open the hearing for two meetings to allow time for further public input, but closed the hearing on Feb. 6.

Public Act No. 17-55 “An Act Concerning Temporary Health Care Structures,” which was 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 them 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 conduct a public hearing on the issue and states the reason for its decision in a newspaper having a substantial circulation in that town.

During the hearing, Sulkis explained that Milford has zoning regulations that address the issue of caring for family members, including in-law apartments, and allowing someone to live in a separate structure on the property to care for the premises.

“The city feels we have the ability to accommodate people,” said Sulkis.

Sulkis said other communities have identified problems with the law that Milford officials also anticipate being a problem. Problems include the ease of getting a doctor’s note, and enforcing the regulation. Another issue is the requirement to issue a permit within 15 days. He said wetlands permits typically cannot be issued that quickly. He said Milford has a tremendous amount of wetlands.

At the public hearing, the same resident from the Jan. 16 meeting again spoke in favor of adopting the state law, while one person spoke against having the law apply in Milford.

Lauren Larkin of 85 Viscount Drive said the law gives people different options. Larkin said her grandfather died in a nursing home 22 years ago, but wanted to go home to die.

Speaking against the law was Donna Dutko of 236 Buckingham Ave., who said that if someone is sick enough to be in a nursing home, they are “too sick to be put in a pod in the backyard.” Dutko said she took care of her mother for years and said her family was right there with her mother the whole time.

During the board discussion, Sulkis said there are no time restrictions on the use and such a building could be in place for 30 years. He said the regulation was written for the entire state, and said there are towns that do not have regulations for accessory apartments.

Quish spoke in favor of the law, saying, he thought the great majority of the regulation was well thought out. He said he did not think there would be a problem with people abusing it.

“I don’t see someone going to the trouble of doing this unless it was a real family emergency,” said Quish.

Board member John Grant, who chairs the board’s Regulations Subcommittee, made a motion to opt out of the state law, saying, “current zoning law makes plenty of adjustments to accommodate ill family members.”

Grant said purchasing a manufactured structure, then connecting it to sewer, electricity and water would be far more costly than constructing an addition to an existing structure.

In response, Quish said there is an industry for this use, and the cost is not a concern of the board, but of the family.

“If it helps one person, it is worth it,” said Quish. “It is no burden to anyone else.”

Board member Denise Doucette-Ginise spoke against opting out of the law, saying, “We can’t make that choice for the residents of Milford,” commenting that residents should have this as an option.

Board member Scott Marlow said the board should opt in to the law, but with changes to address concerns.

In response, Sulkis said the board had three options, opt in, opt out and incorporate the law into its regulations, or opt out.

“If you do nothing, you are already in,” said Sulkis. “If you want to go with regulations for this, we can work on creating this.”

Grant said he went through caring for his parents and his in-laws. He said the city could come up with better regulations than the state law.

Using language suggested by Sulkis, Grant made a motion to opt out of the law for the purpose of incorporating the provisions of the act. Quish asked Grant to put a six-week timeline on seeing language for a new regulation.

Board member C. Robert Satti said the statute does not say the board can opt out with conditions. He said if the board opts out, it goes to the Board of Aldermen for the final decision.

In response, Sulkis said he presented a guidance sheet from the American Planning Association that has been tested in other communities, allowing a town to opt out and then create its own regulations.

Quish then said, “We had a vote to opt out. It failed, so we have not opted out. And we are gonna go with that for tonight. We are going to move on.”

Board member Thomas Panzella and Quish had a back and forth discussion on the merits of voting on the second motion.

Panzella closed out his remarks by saying, “Personally I think you are wrong, but I’m not the chairman and I don’t make these decisions. We have a motion and we have a second and I think we should vote on it.”

In response, Quish said, “Why we accepted a second motion is from information that I got from staff that I now feel is not fully legitimate in terms of why we needed to have a second motion.” He said the board could address the topic at another time.

Grant asked Sulkis if Quish was correct in blocking the vote on the second motion, saying this does not follow Roberts Rules of Order.

“We have a motion on the floor and I feel it has to be voted on,” said Grant.

Sulkis answered by saying, the board has had a past practice of voting on a second motion when a first motion was confusing or ended in a tie vote.

“I will leave it up to the chair. There is a motion the floor that I think is legitimate,” said Sulkis.

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