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After review of a new state law that automatically adds to municipal zoning regulations provisions that allow municipalities to regulate temporary health care structures, also known as “granny pods,” the Planning and Zoning Commission on October 5 unanimously decided to “opt out” of those zoning rules.
The P&Z held a public hearing on the matter, but no members of the public were present to comment. The P&Z’s opting out of the zoning regulations is subject to review and action by the Legislative Council.
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. Municipal 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.
George Benson, town planning director, told P&Z members, “The concept sounds good, but the implementation just doesn’t work.” The town zoning regulations already specify four housing options for impaired people at residential properties, Mr Benson said.
“The zoning enforcement would almost be impossible,” he said of the various zoning compliance issues raised by the granny pod regulations. Zoning enforcement staff would need to review medical documents if granny pods were allowed, he said.
“It just doesn’t make any sense… I understand the concept, but the way [the law] was written just doesn’t make any sense… I see a lot of legal issues,” Mr Benson said.
Mr Benson said he expects that the eventual removal of a granny pod from a property after it has served its purpose would prove “problematic.”
The planning director suggested to P&Z members that if desired in the future, the P&Z could create a set of land use rules allowing such structures that would avoid the problems posed by the state-sanctioned zoning rules on granny pods.
P&Z member Corinne Cox commented on a potential problem with the presence of a granny pod on a property after it is no longer needed. “My concern is, how do you get rid of these?” she asked.
P&Z member Donald Mitchell said, “I don’t think there’s a lot to recommend this [land use] in such a rush… There’s so many unknowns here and enforcement is a nightmare,” he observed. Mr Mitchell held out the possibility that the P&Z could create its own regulations for such a land use in the future, if desired.
In their motion 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. They also referenced a range of reasons for opting out, as listed in a memorandum from Mr Benson to the P&Z.
In that September 13 memo, Mr Benson states the town already has several housing options available in residential zones for impaired people. These include allowing accessory apartments in houses; allowing accessory apartments in detached accessory buildings; allowing guest houses for temporary residents; and allowing a family to have roomers or boarders.
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, he writes. The removal of a granny pod after it is vacated would prove problematic, he adds. The law does not address the disposition of the structure after the town executes a performance bond on it and then removes the structure, he writes.
Also, the public health code requires that each structure have its own septic system, he noted.
Connecting a one-bedroom structure to an existing septic system would require special permission from the state, according to Mr Benson.
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.
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 granny 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.