Haverhill City Councilors Choose to Solicit More Feedback Before Taking Vote on Accessory Apartments

File photograph. (Image licensed by Ingram Image.)

The Haverhill City Council decided last night the best way to handle what had become a controversial plan—allowing expanded opportunities to create so-called “accessory dwelling units”—is to hold the idea for further study.

Last week, councilors also elected to put on hold a proposal, supported by Mayor James. J. Fiorentini, permitting what previously had been limited to “in-law” apartments, but no longer limit them to the boundaries of existing homes. An earlier zoning change had already removed the limitation such units would be available only to family members.

Currently, accessory apartments may only be built within an existing structure or a connected building, such as a garage. Inspectional Services Director Richard MacDonald explained why the proposal was made.

“This is about addressing our great housing needs and doing it in a methodical, safe manner. We do not expect the ordinance to create a large amount of applications. All proposed ADUs require permits and must go through the city’s development review,” he said.

Since the proposal became widely known following WHAV’s news coverage last week, those for and against have spoken out. Among them, Rep. Andy X. Vargas went on social media to support the plan. He cited a shortage of apartments as driving up rents. Vargas also said he filed statewide legislation to require a “permitting process” for added accessory apartments in every community.

In a press release Monday, Fiorentini said, his plan “eliminates the special permit requirement” for adding such apartments. He added the city is also developing “a special loan program” using federal pandemic aid to help pay for renovations to create the extra apartments.

Opponents argued, however, single-family neighborhoods could quietly evolve into high density housing areas.

Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan said, while the plan has merit, it requires more vetting before a vote is taken. He proposed first sending it to the Council’s Administration and Finance Committee for review.

“I think we need to vet it out, and I don’t think it’s going to get vetted out successfully here tonight. I think it needs to go to the subcommittee where the public will be invited. Everyone will be able to attend and we would have a better discussion so that we can meet some of these objections,” he explained.

Sullivan added he believes there is considerable misinformation being spread about the proposed apartments and further discussion would be a way to make clear what the city is hoping to achieve.

Councilors agreed, voting unanimously to send the proposal to subcommittee before any vote is taken.

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