The Sandwich Planning Board this week unanimously approved updates to zoning regulations, including one that would make it easier to add an affordable apartment to an existing single-family property.

The town’s taxpayers must vote on the proposed changes to the “accessory dwelling units,” bylaw—and other zoning changes—at the annual Town Meeting in May.

The public does not have to wait until May, however, to hear more about the zoning changes. Residents and business owners will have an opportunity to discuss the measures next month at a public hearing hosted by the planning board.

The public hearing will be held at the Sand Hill Community Center on Tuesday, March 17, at 5 PM.

Easing the regulations governing accessory dwelling units was suggested by the planning board last year at the behest of the Cape Cod Commission.

The regional planning agency has suggested that all Cape towns allow accessory dwelling units as a “by right” accessory use for single-family dwellings. That means that such apartments would be allowed without the owners having to apply for special permits.

“The primary purpose of these zoning bylaws and ordinances is to permit the creation of a greater number and variety of housing units, in terms of size and price, which can be integrated into single family residential properties with little or no negative impact on the character of their surrounding neighborhoods,” the Cape Cod Commission said in a memo to the planning board earlier this winter.

The planning board agreed but imposed conditions.

The Cape Cod Commission—and Massachusetts officials—are looking at zoning bylaws throughout the commonwealth that may have helped create a housing shortage crisis in many regions.

Allowing accessory dwelling units would create more housing for seniors and younger workers who are currently priced out of several municipalities, especially on the Cape, government agencies have said.

The Cape Cod Commission defines accessory dwelling units as:

“One or more rooms designed, occupied or intended for occupancy as separate living quarters, with cooking, sleeping and sanitary facilities provided within the dwelling unit for the exclusive use of a single family maintaining a household.”

Sandwich bylaws currently allow such accessory units, but only in cases where the owner of an existing single-family residence also lives there. In other words, an elderly couple, seeking to rent out rooms to bring in some extra cash, would be allowed to do so under certain circumstances, if they continued to live in the principal dwelling unit.

The existing bylaw seeks to prohibit a landlord from subdividing a single-family house and renting out both units.

The planners removed the term “guest house” from the regulations, since the definition of the accessory dwelling units covers all guest houses. Also, the planners agreed to consolidate the rules governing in-law apartments into the accessory dwelling units bylaw.

Currently, in-law or relative’s quarters are allowed, but they must be separate from the main home.

Other zoning bylaw changes include adding an affordable housing component to cottage colony conversions, to condominiums or year-round rentals.

Under the proposed bylaw, at least 10 percent of such converted units must be made affordable—priced for people who earn substantially less than the median income for Barnstable County.

The new regulations also call for affordable units to be incorporated into all future cluster developments—complexes of higher density than standard singe-family subdivisions.

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