City Council Approves Plan to Allow Expansion of What Were Formerly In-Law Apartments in Haverhill

File photograph. (Image licensed by Ingram Image.)

Following several months of discussion and public input, the Haverhill City Council on Tuesday, approved an amended version of an ordinance that allows for more accessory dwelling units, once known as in-law apartments, within the city.

A proposal to do just that was presented to the Council back in November of last year. Although the proposal had the endorsement of Mayor James J. Fiorentini, councilors said there was not enough information then to okay the plan. Instead, they sent the proposal to the body’s Administration and Finance Committee for further review. Councilor Melinda E. Barrett, Committee chairperson, presented the updated proposal, saying it addressed many concerns.

“We have had two public meetings that were very well attended. They gave us feedback, which the mayor’s office took and ran with to make this rather cumbersome, initial piece of legislation and they streamlined it. We have added components for enforcement. This ordinance requires that they be owner occupied. That will take care of so many issues,” she said.

Changes include pushing setback requirements further from property lines and, in some cases, require fencing. The accessory apartments may also have no more than two bedrooms, provide off-street parking, cannot be rented for less than 12 months at a time, cannot be sold separately from the principal dwelling and must maintain the architectural character of the original property. Additionally, the unit may not exceed 1,200 square feet.

One area of contention, raised by councilor Melissa J. Lewandowski, is the requirement of a special permit. One is required for a detached unit, but not if it is an addition to an existing structure. Lewandowski said she would like the requirement extended to all units.

As he did back in November, when the original proposal was introduced, Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua asked why the ordinance doesn’t require renters of these units have a familial tie to the homeowners, a requirement, he said, would help avert abuse.

Barrett responded, “We’ve had an ADU ordinance on the books in Haverhill since 1992. It has never had a family-tie component.”

The updated ordinance also provides for strengthened enforcement, including an annual certification process administered by the Community Development Department to ensure owner occupancy. Also, upon the sale of the property, an inspection by building inspectors is required.

The new ordinance also requires the Community Development Department to submit a report to the City Council in one year covering the success of and any problems with the new plan. Councilors reserved the right to eliminate the program if they find it does not meet expectations.

Councilors passed the ordinance by a vote of 8-1 with Bevilacqua opposed.

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