Marblehead Planning Board begins drafting ADU proposal

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Marblehead Planning Board members in a special meeting on Wednesday afternoon began a working draft of a zoning policy that aims to regulate and govern accessory-dwelling units – both their construction and use in town.

It is important to note: That policymaking here is in the infancy stages, but zoning bylaw changes need to be approved by Marblehead Town Meeting members. These early-day efforts could culminate with a zoning bylaw on the 2023 town warrant.

Use discussions on Wednesday appeared headed toward a zoning proposal that would permit certain people who live in and own their Marblehead home to construct an accessory-dwelling unit (sometimes called an in-law apartment) and rent it out.

The draft comes after the town staged a public meeting and circulated a survey to cull public feedback. Expect even more public comment opportunities and reworking as the policy work moves down a pipeline, said Marblehead Town Planner Rebecca Curran Cutting.

“It seemed to me from all the feedback we got,” said Cutting, “There were two purposes for ADUs [that people favored]: It was caregivers and family and creating naturally occurring affordable housing.”

That latter part could come with a threshold restriction: The landlord must keep the occupant’s monthly rent at no more than 70 percent of the fair market rent limit for Marblehead, based on bedroom size, as determined by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development). In Marblehead, that comes out to $1,986 for a one-bedroom and $2,399 for a two-bedroom.

Officials also seemed to be leaning toward an ADU-use restriction not only for affordable rent but also for keeping family members together – like in-laws, caregivers and relatives– in districts zoned for single-family homes.

Broadening zoning and regulations around ADUs have been cited as a best practice to tackle housing affordability issues.

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