City considers easing restriction on in-law apartments to create more housing options

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MANCHESTER, NHAldermen on Tuesday night will consider a change to the zoning ordinance that would make it a little easier for residents to create small rentable apartments as part of a detached garage or carriage house.

Formally known as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) the zoning change, requested by Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart, would allow residents to create an apartment inside a detached garage. Currently, ADUs are only permitted inside a residence or built on to an existing primary residence.

In a letter provided by Stewart to the Committee on Administration/Information Systems to amend Chapter 155 of the city’s zoning code, Stewart said the change would address “in a small way” the city’s housing shortage, evidenced by a rental vacancy rate of just 1.1 percent. 

“As many Manchester employers struggle to attract employees one of the biggest barriers faced is a lack of available and affordable housing for said employees. Allowing for detached ADUs will not solve the city’s housing crisis on its own, but it can be a small part of the solution as these smaller units are often a more affordable option for both younger workers as well as seniors on a fixed incomes,” wrote Stewart.

The state Accessory Dwelling Unit Law went into effect in June of 2017, and while it limits ADUs to “a residential living unit that is within or attached to a single-family dwelling, and that provides independent living facilities for one or more persons, including provisions for sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation on the same parcel of land as the principal dwelling unit it accompanies,” it also gives municipalities the option of permitting detached ADUs, as part of a stand-alone building on the same parcel as the principal dwelling, or in a building such as a garage or a barn not attached to the primary single-family dwelling. 

During last week’s committee meeting there was minimal discussion on the amendment, which passed unanimously. Stewart said that while it’s no panacea, it would not just create more affordable living options, but also allow property owners to maximize their investment.

“Expanding the city’s current ADU ordinance to allow ADUs in detached garages and carriage houses will not, by itself, solve Manchester’s housing affordability challenges, which are many and complex. Admittedly this proposal is a very small change, but it is a step in the right direction,” Stewart said. 

A year ago city resident James Vayo launched a website, MHT for ADUs, to provide a place where residents could find out about the issue and share their stories. Vayo started the ball rolling with his own story.

He purchased a home in 2018 with a detached two-car garage and bonus room above it. But in seeking to rent it out, he soon became intimidated by the complicated process required for a conditional use permit.

“I am in favor of the amendment put forward by Alderman Stewart and I will be at the BMA meeting to speak in favor of its passage. Alderman Stewart has worked diligently with the Planning and Community Development Office for over a year to identify regulation changes they would support. It is encouraging to see the willingness of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen to explore what actions they can take to address impediments to housing production in this time of scarcity,” Vayo said. “Amendments to regulations, such as this one allowing ADU’s in garage structures, is a good first step in increasing the number of housing units built in the city in a given year.”

But like Stewart, Vayo would like to see the city go a step further, and take the lead in creating more affordable housing options.

“The housing problem is so large that I fear this approach of tweaks to the regulations will do little to keep pace with the lack of new construction,” Vayo said. “Manchester needs an agenda for tackling the housing crisis and I am hopeful the BMA will take the opportunity on Tuesday to consider establishing a housing task force in order to meaningfully address barriers to unit production.”

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen meets Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. at City Hall, third floor.

About this Author

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!