Sunday, June 13, 2021

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Killingworth Tweaks Accessory Apartment Rules with Hope of More Accessible Housing

After months of deliberations, the Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) approved some significant loosening of restrictions around so-called “accessory apartments”—living spaces built onto single-family lots—which is meant to expand affordable housing access in town.

PZC Chair Tom Lentz said the discussions preceded the ongoing statewide push for more inclusive zoning, and are simply meant to allow reasonable access for residents or developers to expand the kinds of living spaces available.

Among the bevy of changes approved earlier this spring is the removal of the special exception permit process to build an accessory dwelling, which can be lengthy and arduous, as well as decreasing the minimum lot size.

Previously, only houses that had been constructed at least five years ago could host an accessory dwelling. That restriction has also been lifted, and there have been some additional waivers added for situations where the apartment is deed restricted as affordable.

According to Lentz, even though the PZC only received two or three accessory dwelling applications per year, the changes are simply meant to simplify access and availability, and were worked out in a collaborative process with town officials.

“There were a lot of compromises, and most of the time we came in the middle,” Lentz said.

As zoning debates rage in Hartford and in towns across the state, these tweaks are something simple and straightforward that are applicable to a small town like Killingworth, according to Lentz. Advocates have honed in on accessory dwellings as a relatively simply way to increase housing diversity in suburban or rural areas that are mostly zoned for large single-family constructions.

In Killingworth, smaller lots can have accessory apartments if they are affordable, and there are other waivers based on specific lot issues, such as septic or topography.

“We started this long before recent discussions about housing,” Lentz said. “It was just an idea to make a little more affordable housing available.”

Killingworth does not limit accessory dwelling occupancy to immediate family members of the homeowner as other towns have done, though either the main dwelling or the accessory building must remain occupied by the property owner.

There remains a one-year waiting period if the accessory apartment needs a fully separate septic system, which is supposed to ensure those are only built for people who “really want it,” Lentz said.

What effect these changes will have, if any, remains to be seen, with Lentz saying that the PZC will certainly keep an eye on any kind of significant increase in accessory buildings and their use without necessarily expecting anything. The town also received a glowing review of the changes by the Regional Planning Council, which singled out Killingworth’s new regulation as “a model” for neighboring communities as far how to write these kinds of regulations.

“It’s just going to be a case of, we’ll see what happens,” he said.

Jesse Williams covers Guilford and Madison for Zip06. Email Jesse at

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