During the final segment of the Monday, Feb. 14 Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) meeting, Commission members received updates on two areas of significant interest: pending new state regulations on land use and zoning, which relates to questions of local control over land use; and the work of two special local committees engaged in work mapping out the future of Wilton P&Z.
Public Act 21-29: Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) & Parking Regulations
The main takeaway from the discussion about pending new statewide regulations is that Wilton either has to decide to opt-out of the new state regs (an action both P&Z and the Board of Selectmen would need to take together) or choose to do nothing and allow state regs to take effect, effectively overriding local regulations starting in 2023.
The regulations in question concern Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and parking.
Prior to the meeting, Town Planner Michael Wrinn distributed a PowerPoint presentation (available online for the public), comparing recently passed Connecticut state regulations against Wilton’s corresponding land-use regulations currently in place and approved by P&Z.
One key difference in the state vs. town regulations concerns the size of allowable ADUs. According to Wrinn, the new state regulations allow ADUs up to a maximum of 30% of the main building or 1,000 square feet, whichever is less; however, Wilton’s regulations allow ADUs up to 25% of the main building or 750 square feet, whichever is more. Therefore, state regulations would restrict properties with more than 3,000 square feet in the main building to a smaller ADU than what Wilton regulations currently allow.
“There is a difference in sizes,” Wrinn emphasized. “So if you have a 6,000 square foot home, which we do have in Wilton, you’re allowed a much larger unit than under the state regulation.”
There are also additional changes to the rules governing ADUs. For instance, if Wilton adopts the new state regulations, it would eliminate the current town restriction that requires exterior staircases to be out of view from the street. Furthermore, the state regulations remove the minimum lot size that Wilton currently enforces for adding ADUs.
“For the most part, anywhere you have a single-family home, the state regulation is going to allow you to do an ADU, whether it’s internal, attached, or detached,” Wrinn said. “So if you have a half-acre lot, under the state regulation, you would be able to do that.”
On the parking topic, the discrepancy between current local regulations and new state regulations comes down to guest parking requirements in large-scale residential buildings.
In the new regulations, Wrinn explained, “basically you have one parking space for one-bedroom units or less, and a maximum of two parking spaces for 2-bedroom units and above, no matter how many bedrooms you have. I believe visitor spaces are exempt.”
Wilton’s current regulations, he said, “require a tremendous number of visitor spaces.”
Chair Rick Tomasetti shared that he had recently met with his counterparts in New Canaan, Westport, Greenwich, Ridgefield, and Weston, all of whom were concerned about the state ADU regulations.
“Most of them do not have an ADU regulation the way we do, so I tried to explain what we’ve been doing for the last 25 to 30 years. But their concern is more around ADUs along coastal areas being run as Airbnbs — Westport is especially concerned about that,” Tomasetti said.
Wrinn requested that the Commission members review the PowerPoint slides and come to the next meeting prepared to discuss whether to opt-out of the new state regulations. He clarified that if P&Z decides to seek an opt-out, it cannot act alone. The move would require a “two-part opt-out,” with the Board of Selectmen acting in concert with P&Z.
Master Plan Subcommittee
Reporting on behalf of the Master Plan Subcommittee, Tomasetti noted that the group did not have major updates to share since the last P&Z regular meeting. However, he and Wrinn discussed plans to incorporate feedback from other town regulatory and advisory groups eager to have a say in the process.
“I know there are other commissions and committees who are looking to speak to us,” Tomasetti said. “There will be a time for other commissions to be brought in, and the consultant will be querying them at the appropriate time.”
Wrinn added, “I did have a conversation with the ARB/Village District [Architectural Review Board/Village District Design Advisory Committee]. My advice to them was that each commissioner put together 10 items that are the most critical issues down there. Then as a group, whittle it down to a top five. I believe that’s what they’ll be doing.”
Vice Chair Melissa-Jean Rotini shared a brief but lively update on the effort to reform the commission’s by-laws.
In a meeting held on Feb. 10, Rotini said she and fellow commissioners Florence Johnson and Jill Warren, “reviewed the by-laws of five or six other towns — we read them all, went through ours, and made some changes. We have some questions for Ira [Bloom, Town Counsel] about whether we can, whether we have to, and whether we should on a couple of things.”
Once Wrinn and Bloom have had a chance to work through those questions, the subcommittee will meet once more, after which, she said, “We’ll be presenting to you, the full Commission, in no time. You’re going to have some nice rules that you’re going to enjoy.”
Tomasetti praised the rapid progress of the by-laws subcommittee, which was only convened last month. “It’s a lot to get done. Thank you for powering through,” he said.
“Ladies get it done,” Rotini replied.
Regular meetings of the Planning & Zoning Commission are currently scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 23, and Monday, Feb. 28, however, the former is likely to be canceled. The next meeting of the Commission’s master plan subcommittee is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 24.
Accepting the state regulation is a slippery slope. Once our town gives up control of land use decisions, (even if the ones under consideration may not be of concern, which I think they are), there is nothing to stand in the way of further changes in the future that would negatively impact Wilton.
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