Milford takes step toward keeping local control over accessory apartments

Milford City Hall, Spring 2021

Milford City Hall, Spring 2021

Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — The Planning and Zoning Board moved to opt out of a state law allowing accessory dwelling units on lots accompanying single-family homes.

The board, at its meeting Tuesday, voted to opt out of the state PA 21-29, which allows accessory apartments in residential districts as the state now defines it, “as a right” starting Jan. 1, 2023. The Board of Aldermen now must also vote on whether to opt out of the coming law.

The decision, however, does not mean the board is moving to craft its own regulations to allow such units, which all agree would help meet a substantial need within the community.

Several people spoke during what was a continuation of a public hearing on this issue in favor of the units. Many said they supported the city opting into the state legislation, but asked that if the city does decide to opt out the board make regulation changes to allow homeowners to create these units.

“The city desperately needs (ADUs),” said Theresa Eke of Point Beach Drive.

Rachel Merva of Dart Hill Road agreed, saying that the high apartment rental costs are forcing out elderly and young people, and the present accessory dwelling regulations are “too restrictive.”

The most restrictive aspects, according to those speaking in favor of more access, are rules calling for such units in single-family homes to be used only by relatives who need support or need to be near family members for assistance.

Sarah Bromley said the state is facing a housing crisis, and Milford is no exception.

“The (state) legislation addresses a substantial need in Milford,” board Chair Jim Quish said. “It enables our elderly and young people to have a way to stay in town. It is also an opportunity for citizens to build wealth. But there are problems with the legislation.”

Quish said by opting out the board can create its own regulation and maintain local control over its implementation.

“There is potential for irrevocable harm to Milford if we do not opt out,” Quish said. “We do not want to be handcuffed by the state regulations.”

City Planner David Sulkis said between 100 and 200 such units exist under the present regulations. If the board had chosen to opt-in to the state legislation there could be potentially thousands of potential accessory dwelling units.

“By opting out, we keep local control over our planning destiny,” said Mayor Ben Blake. “If you don’t opt out, you give control to the state of Connecticut, which would be harmful to Milford.

“Do we need to update the zoning regulations? Absolutely. Do we need to address accessory dwelling units? Absolutely. You could mirror your regulations after the state legislation, but then we could fix this ourselves. If you do not opt out, and the state plan goes into effect, it is there forever, and we can’t fix any problems.”

State Rep. Kathy Kennedy said Milford does need more diversity in housing stock, but the state’s plan does not address affordability, which many who spoke in favor of the act used as a reason for its implementation.

“I will fight against state-mandated control,” Kennedy added. “We need to maintain local control.”

Quish said this issue is already in the hands of a board subcommittee, which will create the new language.

The state passed PA 21-29 because legislators are trying to achieve more housing, but it doesn’t have to be affordable, added Sulkis.

“Their goal is to create more housing, in a state that’s viewed not to have enough housing to meet demand,” he said.