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Borough Zoning Commission (BZC) members are informing the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) that they intend to “opt out” of a new state law which has automatically added to the borough’s zoning regulations provisions that allow the borough to regulate “temporary health care structures” at residential properties, which also are known as “granny pods.”
As described by the state law, a granny pod is a portable residential structure, similar to a small mobile home, in which an impaired person requiring caregiver assistance would reside. Such a living arrangement would provide an alternative for the impaired person, who otherwise might need to live in a nursing home or obtain handicapped-accessible housing on their caregiver’s property.
Because the P&Z serves as the borough’s planning agency, the BZC is seeking formal comments from the P&Z about the BZC’s opposition to the new granny pod regulations. BZC members at an October 11 session concurred in their opposition to granny pods.
BZC Chairman Douglas Nelson said he is seeking to have the BZC hold a public hearing on November 8 on the BZC’s opposition to the granny pod law. That law allows zoning commissions to opt out of the granny pod regulations if a commission chooses to do so after a public hearing. Opting out also requires the zoning agency to formally state its reasons for doing so.
Before the October 11 BZC session, Mr Nelson had provided information on granny pods to BZC members to familiarize them with the new state law.
If the BZC formally votes to opt out, the matter would then be referred to the Borough Board of Burgesses, which also would need to opt out, in order to remove the granny pod provisions from the borough zoning regulations. The Board of Burgesses is the borough’s legislative agency.
On October 5, the P&Z formally opted out of the granny pod regulations. That P&Z action has been submitted for review and action by the Legislative Council, which placed the matter on its October 18 meeting agenda.
During the October 18 meeting, Council Chair Mary Ann Jacob said her panel had a robust discussion before voting to opt out, so the granny pod rules would be removed from the town’s zoning regulations.
“I don’t like the state reaching in and having influence over our zoning laws,” Ms Jacob told The Newtown Bee following the meeting. “To me, it was more of a technical issue, and I hope we can revive this discussion to come up with something that will be useful to Newtown. This was a great concept, but poorly executed at the state level.”
The only opposing vote was made by Councilman Ryan Knapp.
The new state law that took effect on October 1 allows the use of granny pods as accessory land uses in zones that permit single-family houses. Local zoning rules on building-lot setbacks and construction density, among other requirements, would apply to granny pods, just as they apply to other accessory uses, such as garages and sheds.
Specifically, the law defines temporary health care structures as units that are primarily assembled off-site; are not built or positioned on a permanent foundation; are a maximum 500 square feet in enclosed area, and meet the terms of the state building code, the fire safety code, and the public health code. The new law requires that the structure be occupied by an impaired person; be subject to a possible annual permit review; and be removed within 120 days of the impaired person vacating the structure.
Also, the law requires that the caregiver living on the property be a relative, a legal guardian, or a health care agent responsible for the unpaid care of a mentally or physically impaired person. Only one granny pod would be allowed per lot. The new law was created to enable the use of a new type of housing unit intended to provide affordable handicapped-accessible housing close to an impaired person’s caretakers and/or family. The pod is seen as an alternative to nursing home care, expensive and permanent home modifications or additions, or relocation to housing further away from caregivers.
George Benson, town planning director, recently told P&Z members, “The concept sounds good, but the implementation just doesn’t work.”
The planning director has said that the PZC’s zoning rules already contain four other regulatory mechanisms through which temporary health care could be provided to an ill person.
In their October 5 action to opt out of the state-sanctioned granny pod regulations, P&Z members decided that opting out is consistent with the terms of the 2014 Town Plan of Conservation and Development.
In a recent memo to the P&Z, Mr Benson wrote that the verification of a person’s impaired status, and a caregiver’s status, as well as medical documentation reviews, are beyond the traditional jurisdiction of a zoning enforcement officer. The removal of a granny pod after it is vacated would prove problematic, he added.
Besides Connecticut, other states that allow granny pods are Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.
Newtown Bee Associate Editor John Voket contributed to the story.