WELLFLEET — The planning board voted 5 to 1 at its Jan. 6 meeting to draft a new umbrella bylaw regulating both accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and affordable accessory dwelling units (AADUs) in town. The current bylaw allows only for AADUs; existing ADUs are illegal and not monitored.
Chair Gerald Parent and members Beth Singer, David Mead-Fox, Bonnie Shepard, and Olga Kahn voted in favor of the change. Member David Rowell, advocating instead for two separate bylaws — an edited version of the old AADU bylaw, and a new one regulating simple ADUs — was the lone dissenter. Member Alfred Pickard Jr. was absent.
Since 2002, Wellfleet home owners whose property includes an accessory unit smaller than 1,200 square feet have been able to apply for and receive the “affordable” designation. In 12-month leases, the home owners can then rent their units at an affordable rate (set through a special permit from the zoning board of appeals) to “income-eligible households,” defined as those that earn less than 120 percent of the area median income, or AMI.
In theory, the AADU program is meant to address Wellfleet’s shortage of year-round affordable housing. But in practice, as reported in the Dec. 17 issue of the Independent, it has proved to be only minimally effective. Though town assessor Nancy Vail said 180 Wellfleet properties include at least one secondary dwelling unit, only 11 AADUs exist in town.
That is the ostensible reason the planning board revisited the program, beginning on Nov. 4. Two ADU/AADU-related issues were on the table at the Jan. 6 meeting: first, whether members were in favor of discussing a zoning bylaw addition for ADUs (they were, unanimously), and, second, whether the new ADU bylaw should stand alone, which might further hamper the struggling AADU program, or be lumped in with updated versions of the current AADU regulations.
Citing the AADU program’s red tape, Singer, Shepard, and Kahn strongly supported merging the two bylaws. Kahn has rented out a secondary dwelling she owns as part of the AADU program for 16 years, and she was the first to propose a merged bylaw, which would keep the AADU program relevant.
“If you rented out as affordable to a year-round affordable renter, and your renter has good fortune and gets a raise and gets above the income limit, there [would be] a seamless and easy conversion to just having it be an accessory dwelling unit, and vice versa,” said Shepard in support of having one all-encompassing bylaw.
Parent agreed. “We’ve got a situation where people are under the AADU and, all of a sudden, are really at the threshold and can’t take a raise because, if anyone looks over their back, they’re making too much money,” he said.
A single bylaw, it was argued, would allow home owners with qualifying secondary units to receive just one permit and make a no-fuss transition between renting it out as an ADU and AADU. Wellfleet’s Affordable Housing Tax Exemption — which offers a tax break to home owners renting to income-eligible tenants based strictly on that tenant’s income level, and not on AADU designation — would remain the same.
Rowell wasn’t convinced of the threat of losing AADU status. “That’s never happened,” he said. “Nobody’s ever been thrown out.”
Besides, Rowell added, the blanket ADU/AADU bylaw, which he called “a loaded gun,” might have implications that reached further than the board realized.
“In effect, we’re allowing two-family residences throughout the town of Wellfleet,” Rowell said. “That’s what we’re creating. Understand the significance of that.”
Parent seconded Rowell’s concerns, reminding the board that allowing widespread two-family residences on single plots could strain the town’s water and septic systems. But the board nevertheless voted to pursue a merged bylaw.
At its next meeting, the planning board will begin the process of actually drafting the bylaw for approval at town meeting.
“Now we’ve got to write a bylaw — and rip it apart!” said Rowell.