WELLFLEET — Select board Chair Ryan Curley has proposed increasing the town’s affordable housing stock by allowing deed-restricted houses to be constructed on lots that are currently classified as unbuildable.
Curley plans to get his proposed zoning bylaw change on the April annual town meeting warrant, either with the sponsorship of the select board or as a petitioned article that he would present. He prefers board sponsorship because that would allow for a review by the town counsel.
In any case, Curley’s idea has already won the backing of the Wellfleet Affordable Housing Trust and the Wellfleet Housing Authority.
The new zoning provisions would allow a single-family dwelling to be built by right, without a special permit, on a lot containing at least 10,000 square feet of uplands. The parcel would need a minimum of 20 feet of frontage on a road previously approved by the planning board or, in the opinion of the planning board, having suitable width and grade to support vehicle traffic.
Existing zoning rules require building lots to have at least 20,000 square feet in the Central district, 30,000 in the Residential 1 district, and 40,000 in the Residential 2 district. Frontage requirements are 125 feet in the Central district and 135 in residential districts.
Setbacks in Curley’s proposal would be similar to those of adjacent houses. Building any closer than 25 feet from a neighboring house could trigger a requirement for a six-foot stockade fence.
Lots deemed unbuildable as part of a subdivision’s open space plan would not qualify, nor would lots in the National Seashore Park District, where the minimum lot size is 3 acres.
The bylaw change would also allow affordable houses to be built on lots with less than 10,000 square feet of uplands by special permit from the zoning board of appeals, under certain conditions.
According to Curley, there are 232 currently unbuildable lots in Wellfleet, but only 44 of them would qualify for building under his proposal. Eighteen of the 40 have a high probability of qualifying, he said, while the remaining 26 have issues that might exclude them, like proximity to wetlands, septic setback requirements, or lack of adequate access.
The bylaw would apply only to pre-existing lots. It would not allow for the creation of new lots, Curley said.
Houses built on previously unbuildable lots would have to remain affordable, whether sold or rented, in perpetuity, or for the maximum period allowed by law.
“I think I’ve done enough of the work researching its impacts,” said Curley by phone. “I have a list of the unbuildable lots and the exact parcels.”
The concept isn’t new, he said. He based his bylaw proposal on an existing one in Yarmouth.
Curley tried to get the planning board to adopt the initiative, but its members said that, while they support the concept, it couldn’t be done in time for the April town meeting.
“Many of these lots are in neighborhoods with similarly sized lots,” Curley told the planning board at a recent meeting. “The deed restriction would be similar to Habitat for Humanity houses; they would have to meet income requirements. When they come up, it’s someone local who needs affordable housing.”
Planning board Chair Gerald Parent said he feared many of the lots are in places with water problems or are in locations with town water. “It could go from a one-bedroom to four or five bedrooms,” Parent said. “It’s easy to put in a 1,500-gallon septic system if you don’t have to put in a well.”
The planning board’s David Mead-Fox applauded Curley’s “intent to do the right thing,” but said he, too, was concerned over potential water and septic issues. “We are already on extremely thin ice relative to water and septic and nitrogen in the harbor,” Mead-Fox said.
Ultimately the planning board voted to “take on the issue for research purposes of how to increase this stock of affordable housing in Wellfleet,” but not for the upcoming town meeting. The motion also noted the research “may or may not lead to a future bylaw.”
Curley hopes that his proposal would qualify under recent amendments to state laws that allow zoning bylaw changes related to affordable housing to pass by a simple majority vote at town meetings rather than the two-thirds majority usually required for zoning changes.
According to the Mass. Dept. of Housing and Community Development, Wellfleet’s affordable housing stock total is second lowest in Barnstable County. Only 2.5 percent of the town’s dwellings are categorized as affordable. Truro has the dubious distinction of being lowest, at 2.3 percent.
The state’s minimum standard is 10 percent.