MILFORD – The Board of Aldermen last week voted to opt out of the state’s new accessory apartments law despite calls by a number of aldermen and Milford residents to first update the city’s existing regulations.
The town had until Jan. 1, 2023 to opt out – requiring a two-thirds vote by Planning and Zoning and the Board of Aldermen – or Public Act 21-29 would have allowed accessory apartments on lots with single-family homes by right – without a public hearing or the need for a special permit.
Prior to last week’s meeting, Planning and Zoning voted on Aug. 2 to opt out, with nine members in favor and one abstaining.
Under Milford’s current regulations effective 2007, accessory apartments must be attached to the principal building and occupied by a person related to the owner by blood, or legal adoption. The apartment cannot be used to generate income, and requires a permit from Planning and Zoning that expires every three years.
Milford Mayor Benjamin Blake said that nearby municipalities including Stratford, Fairfield, Westport and Monroe have already opted out of the law. Others like Stamford, Greenwich and Trumbull are still in the process of deciding.
Prior to its Aug. 2 vote to opt out, the Planning and Zoning Board delegated the task of analyzing new ADU regulations to their Regulations Subcommittee.
But Alderman Ellen Beatty said she recalled the chairman saying the subcommittee should meet before the Aldermen cast their vote, and that didn’t happen.
“That’s the way democracy works,” said Ellen Beatty. “But now, why should we rush it at this point?”
Beatty said that she favors local control over the new state law, but said she would like to make an informed vote using the Regulations Subcommittee’s findings.
Alderman Michelle Parente said the board was in the dark when it came to the next steps for ADUs – she said that she requested an update from Planning and Zoning on proposed regulations, but had yet to receive it.
Parente, Beatty and Alderman Matt Arciuolo all agreed that the board should table the vote for their October meeting until they receive a report from the subcommittee. Alderman Ward Willis concurred, but offered his own reservations.
“I am concerned,” Willis said. “Will a month be enough time to get kind of a concrete idea of where planning a zoning is gonna go with this?”
Rachel Merva, a member of All in for Milford, a group advocating for affordable housing solutions in Milford, said that her group had invited the aldermen to a virtual informational meeting about the need for apartment dwelling units, but only Arciuolo and Beatty attended.
The webinar was made up of three panelists – a planning advisor from Fairfield, a developer from Wallingford and a Milford resident looking to build a detached ADU for her parents to live independently. They discussed how the current regulations restrict the housing market in a city with an already high cost of living.
The group called for Planning and Zoning to revise the current regulations before the aldermen cast their vote.
“Let’s vote for it and move on.”
Alderman Anthony Giannattasio said he was in favor of opting out.
Giannattasio said he understood the need to update the regulations, but that the board needed to deal with one issue at a time – first to withdraw and ensure local control, and then to deal with potential changes.
“I don’t know if the postponement is going to bring us more clarity to what the Planning and Zoning Board wants to do,” he said.
Alderman Gregory Harla agreed. He said opposition to the motion was only muddying the waters as all of the aldermen are ultimately in favor of opting out.
“Let’s vote for it and move on,” Harla said.
A motion by Parente to postpone the vote until October failed 4 to 10.
The board ultimately voted to opt out of the state regulations by a 11 to 2 vote. Parente abstained.
In a phone call with the CT Examiner after the vote, Merva said that by voting to opt out, the aldermen lost leverage – and without a Planning and Zoning deadline for new regulations, she is unsure if progress would be made.
“I do think that [the subcommittee] is intentional about bringing a revised set of regulations to the Planning and Zoning Board. Now, how intentional is the Planning and Zoning Board about passing revised regulations? It’s hard to tell.”
Merva said she understood the aldermen’s decision as she also wants to maintain local control, but she fears ADU regulation changes will be forgotten by Milford’s legislature.
“What we’ve got in writing today to manage Milford is not acceptable,” she said.