Council OKs detached rental units for most of city

More zoning amendments on tap as city looks to boost housing stock
By Ethan Andrews | Dec 08, 2017
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Councilors take five at their regular meeting Dec. 5. Mayor Samantha Paradis, right, in her second meeting, called for hourly stretch breaks in the interest of health and productivity.

The City Council took its campaign to boost local housing stock a step further Dec. 5, approving zoning changes to allow a separate accessory dwelling structure with up to two bedrooms anywhere in the city were a single-family residence is permitted.

The new dwellings would be limited to a habitable area of 800 square feet with up to 200 square feet of deck. City Planner Wayne Marshall noted that larger buildings could be retrofitted as apartments, provided the living space remained within those limits.

"It could be in a garage, it could be in a barn, or it could be a standalone structure," he said.

The amendments are the latest attempts to fix a shortage in rental properties by encouraging property owners to build mother-in-law apartments or other modest rentals on land previously reserved for single-family homes and duplexes.

Belfast already had what Marshall described as a "pretty unique" baseline residential zoning, allowing duplex (two-family) dwellings on a single-family lot. In 2014, the council voted to allow a one-bedroom accessory dwelling structure to be built on single-family lots in residential zones inside the bypass.

"This proposal basically expands that option to every area (of the city)," Marshall said. He noted several exceptions, including the business and industrial parks — "where we don't allow houses at all" — downtown commercial, working waterfront and shoreland zones.

Paul Dean, the lone resident to speak at a public hearing on the proposed amendments, asked the council to consider flipping the accessory dwelling equation so that he could add a rental duplex to the two-acre Back Searsport Road property where he lives in a single-family home today.

"What that amounts to is three families on a two-acre lot," Dean said. He added that it wouldn't make sense for him to invest in the infrastructure of an accessory dwelling for a single rental, and he doubted others would be interested.

"I don't think in the next decade you'll see more than four or five people actually build an accessory building out in the country and put in a septic system, put in a well (for a single rental) — that's even if they had the structure in place — your driveway and everything else," he said. "It's not going to be cost-effective, and it's not going to happen, and the council won't get what they want."

Marshall said Dean would need four acres to support a new duplex on his property under the current zoning ordinance. Several councilors said they would like to consider changing that rule. Marshall noted another inconsistency that might need to be addressed, in that the code now allows duplexes with accessory dwellings in areas where multifamily housing is banned.

"It was something that (we) took a pause on," Marshall said. "If you would allow two with one, but you wouldn't allow three in one structure, it doesn't make sense."

Another zoning change, concerning multifamily housing density in properties near the bypass and described by Marshall as a "companion" to the amendments adopted Dec. 5, is scheduled for a public hearing and final approval at the council's Dec. 19 meeting.

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