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Berlin eyeing accessory dwelling unit permissions

As a state task force prepares to address accessory dwelling units such as in-law suites and tiny homes, Berlin planning officials are trying to determine what, if any, type of the construction should be permitted in town.


An example of an accessory dwelling unit.
Courtesy photo

By Charlene Sharpe, Associate Editor

As a state task force prepares to address accessory dwelling units, Berlin planning officials are trying to determine what, if any, sort of additional units should be permitted in town.

The Berlin Planning Commission is expected to discuss accessory dwelling units — such as in-law apartments and tiny homes — in the coming weeks as the Maryland Department of Planning Accessory Dwelling Unit Policy Task Force prepares to issue its final report in June. 

“That final report from what I can see looks like it could contain draft language that you all might want to start looking at,” Rick Baldwin, the town’s planning consultant, told the Berlin Planning Commission in May. “Does this fit the Town of Berlin?”

The commission included a discussion of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) during its last meeting. Staff said there was at least one person in town who’d asked about constructing one and that the town’s code did not truly address the issue. Baldwin said there was no minimum square footage for an ADU in the code.

“A tiny house, a term that’s in popular use, is completely undefined in our code,” Baldwin said.

He told the commission that during the 2023 session, the Maryland General Assembly passed Senate Bill 382, which established the ADU task force to study the placement of ADUs on land zoned for single family homes. The task force is expected to study best practices for standardizing the ADU process.

Commission member Newt Chandler asked if the town would be able to create its own rules regarding ADUs. Baldwin said that was correct but the town should put some tools in its toolbox regarding ADUs if they were going to be promoted statewide. He said the code should address the issue.

“The town could be clear about what it is that it wants,” he said. “(Route) 611’s not that far away. You see what they’d got. The question is, ‘is that what we want?’”

Chandler said he could think of nothing worse than a rental unit in every backyard.

“Most people bought their property with the expectation of the quiet enjoyment of that property,” he said. “It’s unfair if their neighbor puts a rental unit in their backyard, that affects their qualify of life. Once the residents figure out this is coming I think they’ll be totally against.”

Matt Stoehr, chair of the commission, agreed the town would likely get requests for ADUs and the commission had to be prepared to handle those. 

“Put tools in the toolbox,” Baldwin said. 

Resident Gabe Purnell said there was a need for more housing. He said tiny houses might be good for the east side of Berlin.

“Our need on the east side is totally different than on the west side,” he said. “We’re supposed to be a part of the town, too. You haven’t taken any considerations about the needs on the east side. We cannot compete with this side of town. It needs to be investigated. It needs to be researched. We’ve got to find a balance to where the east side can continue to survive.”

Resident Bronwyn Betz said she didn’t want short-term rentals everywhere but thought there might be situations where ADUs would be helpful, such as for family members.

“You could think about regulations that wouldn’t allow renting it,” she said. “Maybe it has to be a family type situation.”

Resident Samantha Pielstick said the town’s comprehensive plan talked about infill and affordable housing. She said ADUs could help with those.

“The generation that is coming up right now loves this concept,” she said. “They don’t want 4,000 square feet.”

She said the town just needed to figure out what type of ADUs it wanted to permit and define that in the code. 

Commission member Ron Cascio said it wasn’t as if every single-family lot would add an ADU. 

“We need to get ahead of it before it comes to us,” he said. “That’s why we need to have the discussion, to learn about the type of housing. There’s all kinds of reasons to have them but you can’t just put one in your backyard, turn your toolshed into one. It’s not that easy.”

This story appears in the May 30, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.