Regulatory policy

Darien officials want to opt out of state housing policy and remain ‘masters of their own destiny’

DARIEN — In the latest attempt to maintain local control over zoning, city officials said they plan to back out of a state policy that legalizes all so-called “grandma’s apartments.” » or second homes built on single-family homes to increase the housing stock.

The state passed legislation in 2021 that broadly allows cities to build secondary suites, or ADUs, which are dwellings that can be built in addition to a single-family zoned property. Housing advocates celebrated the move as a potential solution to the state’s housing crisis.

Under the legislation, local officials have until January 2023 to decide whether they want to opt out of the state’s ADU regulations and create their own rules regarding permitting residences.

While the decision will ultimately rest with both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Municipal Representative Assembly, Planning and Zoning unanimously indicated earlier this week that they would prefer to opt out of the city’s regulations. ‘State.

“I want to be able to keep local control,” commission chairman Stephen Olvany said at a July 19 meeting. “We’ve done a great job of doing that in all of our other stuff. If we opt out, which is my recommendation, we can maintain local control and draft our own statute.

ADUs are defined only as a “separate living unit” on a larger square footage property with cooking facilities. They can come in a variety of configurations – attached to a house, detached as a separate building, or even inside a house.

Darien is already well positioned to build this type of housing, Olvany said.

“In our town, on 2-acre lots, it’s very easy to have a secondary suite,” Olvany said. “We already have a lot of pool houses in town.”

David Keating, a former zoning officer for the city, said ADUs bring a lot of benefits to the city, including increasing the resale value of the property to which units are added.

There are also downsides, Keating told the commission: Public facilities such as the city’s sewers and water system could be affected and traffic congestion could increase.

Keating also pointed out that ADUs aren’t required to be affordable units either — building affordable housing has been a top concern for city officials.

Officials were also primarily concerned about how the ADUs would fit in with Darien’s parking regulations, which require each dwelling unit to have two parking spaces. Currently, most streets do not allow overnight on-street parking during the winter.

Olvany said he was concerned that two kitchens on one property could increase the risk of fire.

All of this will mean that residents who want to build ADUs will have to come before the commission with a thorough plan, Olvany said.

“Having to come to the planning and zoning commission with your plans, with your parking lot, with your layout and having to show us, I don’t think that’s a big ask,” Olvany said.

Jeremy Ginsberg, the city’s director of planning and zoning, told the commission that the majority of nearby communities said they were likely to opt out, including Greenwich, Westport and Wilton. Stamford’s decision is still unclear.

The case will now go to the RTM, which could decide whether or not to step down in October.

“We must remain in control of our own destiny, as much as possible,” said commissioner Jim Rand.