Haverhill Mayor Urges Expansion of Accessory Units; Lawyer Says Garages, Sheds May Be Homes

Haverhill City Hall. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill’s mayor says an idea to allow more, what were once intended to be “in-law,” apartments will reduce the number of illegal housing units, but opponents argue it could greatly change the character of single-family neighborhoods.

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill city councilors will again take up Mayor James J. Fiorentini’s proposal to allow more “accessory dwelling units” that would not be limited to relatives or contained within an existing home—as had been the case previously. If approved, additional housing could show up in sheds or garages, for example. Members received the request last week, but put the brakes on it when concerns were raised. Haverhill lawyer and School Committee member Paul A. Magliocchetti sounded an alarm after he heard a WHAV News report of the plans.

“There are some neighborhoods where this might work, but part of the beauty of the City of Haverhill is that we have these different zones, these different areas within the city. We have our high-density neighborhoods. We have our medium-density neighborhoods and we have our low density in rural areas where a lot of people want to live there because of the privacy and the low density,” he told WHAV.

Haverhill School Committeeman Paul A. Magliocchetti. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Magliocchetti explained this isn’t the first time in the last few years that the rules have changed, but this time the revisions may go too far for residents’ own good. Up until last year’s zoning updates, a resident seeking to provide a an apartment for an ailing relative inside their existing home would publicly plead the need before the city Appeals Board. He said it had to be for a “family member and you had to prove it” and require renewal every five years to make sure they need still existed.

He said the most recent zoning rule already “went too far” by omitting the requirement any such apartments be restricted to an in-law or other family member. The revised rules, however still required units remain within existing homes.

“I have a detached, two-car garage next to my house, so I could very easily convert that house to a two-bedroom apartment. By the way, that’s another change they’re trying to implement. It can be up to a two bedroom unit,” he said.

Magliocchetti, who said he plans to attend the City Council meeting, added the new plan allows these converted apartments to then be rented at “market rate” if a special permit is obtained or “by right” if it is an “affordable” unit.

Fiorentini issued his own appeal Monday, urging councilors to approve the plan with a few changes.

“The purpose of this is to encourage the efficient use of the city’s housing supply and to increase the diversity of housing options, in response to demographic changes such as smaller households and older households,” the mayor said. “There are a lot of people out there having trouble finding a place to live and we think this will be another important tool and addressing this need. This new ordinance will allow us to take a small step to increase our housing supply and will allow families to remain together.”

The mayor gave an example, saying, “parents of a disabled adult child could keep that child living with them. Parents could remodel their upstairs or their garage to allow their adult children to remain with them. A caretaker unit could be created to allow for elderly people to age in place.” However, Fiorentini conceded, “An accessory apartment within the envelope of an existing home with not more than four units would no longer require a special permit but would instead be considered an ‘as-of-right’ use of the property.”

The Haverhill City Council meets tonight at 7 p.m., both online and in-person at the Theodore A. Pelosi Jr. Council Chambers, room 202, Haverhill City Hall, 4 Summer St. As a public service, 97.9 WHAV plans to carry the meeting live.

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