Voters at Mashpee Town Meeting in October will be given a chance to vote on a zoning bylaw change that could lead to some relief for the housing crunch the region is facing.
The Mashpee Planning Board on Wednesday, July 3, voted to pass a number of articles for inclusion on the warrant that would make it easier for homeowners to put an accessory apartment on their property.
The board’s proposal would allow these accessory apartments to be built detached from a home, which is currently not allowed. Additionally, an applicant would not need a special permit from the Mashpee Zoning Board of Appeals; accessory apartments would be by right and would need only a sign-off from the town’s building inspector.
Town Planner Evan R. Lehrer has pushed for the inclusion of such a bylaw in his tenure order to provide Mashpee with at least the opportunity for more diverse housing. He thanked the board for giving him the green light.
Most of the homes in Mashpee and Cape Cod are single-family households. According to data from the Cape Cod Commission, while only 52 percent of homes in Massachusetts are single-family, 82 percent on the Cape are single-family, and 77 percent in Mashpee. That lack of diversity of housing leads to a lack of choices for residents, which impacts the housing crunch.
The town already has a section of the bylaw for accessory apartments, but the board’s proposal would make it easier for homeowners to build them.
Mr. Lehrer brought the proposal to the board Wednesday, and the board voted unanimously to back most of his suggestions.
The only resistance the board offered was to setback requirements. Mr. Lehrer proposed decreasing the setback requirements from 15 feet from a property line down to 5 feet. Every member of the board supported staying with the 15-foot requirement.
The board did have a discussion about the part of the proposal that would force the owner of the accessory apartment to rent out the apartment at no less than one month at a time. Mr. Lehrer proposed the one-month idea to reduce the incentive for short-term renting, a practice that has been a problem for the town health department and neighbors.
The board considered increasing it to no less than six months, which has been passed in other towns.
But board member John F. Phelan pointed out that J-1 visa workers typically stay for three months. Providing housing for the student workers is a big need in the area, the board member said. The board agreed to stick with one-month proposal.
The board also decided to reassess how effective or problematic the bylaw is after a year of review, should the article pass.
Board member Robert W. Hansen noted that there could be a loophole in the bylaw if a resident builds an accessory apartment and then decides to live in the apartment while renting out the main house on a short-term basis. But Mr. Phelan noted that there are already a number of loopholes with short-term rentals, without accessory apartments.
As to who would monitor whether the apartments were not used for short-term rentals, Mr. Lehrer said that it could be the health department and other town agencies. Board member Dennis H. Balzarini said that could require a new employee for the town.
The bylaw proposal notes that only one accessory apartment could be built on a property. The apartment would have a kitchen and a bathroom and not more than two bedrooms.
Board chairman Mary E. Waygan will deliver the proposal to the zoning board as well as the design review committee to receive their comments. If the article passes, neither regulatory board would continue to review applications to build these apartments.