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Berlin could change code on accessory dwelling units

By Jack Chavez, Staff Writer

(Sept. 22, 2022) The Town of Berlin will start researching the usage of accessory dwelling units in other communities, after the topic consumed nearly an entire Planning Commission meeting on Sept. 14.

Planning Director Dave Engelhart said the discussion came at the behest of some commission members who saw the topic as worthy of a second look.

He added that the town code defines an accessory living unit as a building used solely as the temporary dwelling of guests of the property’s occupants “of existing principal use.”

Such dwelling units cannot have kitchen facilities and they cannot be rented “or used otherwise as a separate dwelling unit.” The town does not differentiate between an accessory living unit and a registered living unit, meaning one could be attached or detached from the main residential house, such as an in-law suite.

The regulation has been in place since the 1970s, Engelhart said.

“The idea around town from what I understand back in the day when they passed the zoning code and the town code … where people would, say, have a detached garage and wanted to put in an apartment — this was designed to prevent that,” he said. “They didn’t want a proliferation of rental units and the parking problems they brought on some streets.”

The issue divided the commission, thus proving there will be plenty of questions for town officials to answer if this issue moves forward. How will it codify parking? Will current accessory units, which do exist due to inconsistent enforcement of the code, need to be updated to meet any new zoning requirements? Should there be a distinction between commercial renting and simply taking in a family member?

“That’s why we have an R-3 district and denser districts,” commission member Newt Chandler said. “But R-1 districts, they shouldn’t be allowed for permanent living quarters. I like the way it is. I think a lot of people moving in there look at accessory buildings and think they can turn that into apartments, and I’m not sure if Realtors in Berlin have informed them that’s not allowed.

“Again, these people are coming from places where, for lack of a better term, they’re used to being packed in so it doesn’t bother them. But people who are used to living here and having a quiet enjoyment of their property, next door you (could now) have a lot more children running around, more noise, more traffic and parking issues, so that’s where I’m at.”

On the other side of the issue, commission member Austin Purnell said it’s time the code was updated.

“I think we’re in modern times that call for some modern revisions to what we have in the books,” he said. “With sensible regulations, I think you can do it. Limit the size, close the square-footage capital or something like that. As long as it fits a property … as long as it has on-site parking — don’t jam up the streets or anything like that. You’re still going to have all the same rules that apply, noise ordinances will be in effect.

“If you have any bad apples, (they can be dealt with).”

The argument for an update also included aspects such as diversifying the rental population of Berlin and making rent easier to afford in the town, especially for families simply looking to bring an elderly relative or young adult children onto their properties.