New definition of 'family' in city regulations limits number of unrelated people who can share a home

A new definition of “family” in the city’s zoning regulations would bar the establishment of the kind of shelter that was planned in Woodmont earlier this year in a single-family district. It might also limit the number of students who can share a beach house during college months.

Last week, the Planning and Zoning Board changed the number of unrelated people who may constitute a “family” under city regulations from a rather vague “reasonable number” to a more specific “four,” meaning that no more than four unrelated people may live in a home in a single-family zone.

A battered women’s shelter that had been proposed in Woodmont would have housed up to 15 people in a single-family structure, and with the definition change, that use would no longer be permitted.

A group called BHCare, which provides a range of programs including domestic violence services, had planned to use the house as a shelter. At the time, Assistant City Planner Emmeline Harrigan said the proposal conformed to single-family zoning regulations because it had one kitchen and would be used by people operating a common household.

At the time, the definition of “family” was as follows: “Persons related by blood, marriage or adoption, or a reasonable number of individuals occupying a dwelling unit who are committed to living together as a single housekeeping unit, in harmony with the surrounding neighborhood, responsible for maintaining a common household.”

BHCare eventually withdrew the plan because the location of the house was made public.

Several Woodmont residents attended last week’s Planning and Zoning Board hearing to support changing “reasonable number” to “four” in referencing the number of unrelated people composing a family.

Pat Delvecchio of Mark Street said she favored a limit of three to four unrelated individuals. “Not 15 or above,” she said.

John Velky of Village Road said he favored limiting family size to four unrelated people because he believes it is more reasonable than the 15 that might have been allowed under the previous definition. He said the phrase “reasonable number” created issues in the neighborhood when the women’s shelter was proposed.

“And we don’t want to see that happen again,” he said.

While the change in definition accomplished what some Woodmont residents wanted, it may have some unintended side effects, city officials said.

Earlier this year, Harrigan had compared the 15 unrelated women to a group of 10 nurses, for example, who decide to share a summer beach cottage. Today, if that beach cottage is in a single-family zone, those nurses would no longer be able to rent the cottage together, city officials said.

Similarly, home owners who rent property to college students, which happens along East Broadway, may be affected. If a house is rented to more than four unrelated students, the house could be cited as being in violation of city regulations, said Joe Griffith, Milford’s director of public land use.

Griffith added, however, that there may be some cases where existing living situations are grandfathered or exempt. He also said the city might have to define the way it calculates the number of unrelated people. For example, if a man and his fiancé, plus his children and her children, are living in a house, how many unrelated people would that be? Further, if two married couples are sharing a single-family house, it might be open to interpretation how many unrelated people that would be, he said.

Local real estate agent Libby Ditchkus said she doesn’t think the limit of four will be a problem for people who rent property.

“I think that six would have been a more reasonable number, but I can live with four,” said Ditchkus, who manages a number of rental properties in Milford.

The number of students who rent housing in Milford has declined over the years, Ditchkus said, explaining that the number dropped when Quinnipiac University took over the law school that the University of Bridgeport ran previously, and when area colleges built more dorms.

“The market for student rentals dropped then,” Ditchkus said.

She added that since there is no limit to the number of related family members in a house, it shouldn’t be a problem.