Councilors Delay Approving Idea to Allow Anyone to Create or Rent ‘In-Law Apartments’ in Haverhill

File photograph. (Image licensed by Ingram Image.)

A question over whether to allow an expansion of, what have been called, “in-law apartments” for non-related people was left unresolved at last Tuesday’s Haverhill City Council Meeting.

The plan to allow more apartments, officially known as “accessory dwelling units,” was presented to the Council by Community Development Division Director Andrew K. Herlihy. He began by acknowledging the plan is not a complete solution to the city’s housing problems.

“This is not a comprehensive housing solution, but we think that this is a tool. We have an epidemic of illegal units that we deal with and we have a goal to try to create some affordable units without requiring substantial additional construction or having to deal with approving large projects,” he explained.

Herlihy said the intent is to providing adequate housing with Haverhill’s elderly in mind and would only pertain to owner-occupied properties.

Currently, accessory dwelling units are allowed only if they are attached to, or within, an existing structure. Haverhill’s Housing Manager Matt Hennigan explained how the proposed zoning amendment would change that.

“What the zoning amendment allows for is existing, detached accessory structures to be converted into ADUs. The ADUs shall be permitted, by right, as long as the homeowner agrees to rent the ADU at 70% of fair-market rent or below, he said.

Hennigan also pointed out zoning requires any ADU is not allowed to exceed 40% of the size of the original structure.

While councilors expressed general support for the concept, there were concerns. Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua questioned if the plan could, in essence, turn a neighborhood of single-family homes into multi-family homes without allowing input from abutting neighbors. He suggested the amendment should, perhaps, only apply to—as has been the case previously— family members of those property owners.

“But, what’s wrong with going back to the original concept of the ADU which was for a unit for someone that is a relative, of some sort, to the principal property owner? What’s wrong with having that as a condition of the ADU?” He asked.

Councilor Melissa J. Lewandowski asked what happens to one of these units if the property is sold.

Because councilors expressed concern over unanswered questions, they agreed to hold the matter for a week to allow the housing manager to clear up the possible ambiguities.

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