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Borough Beginning To Enforce Regulations On Accessory Apartments



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The Borough of Newtown has finalized regulations that will be applied to any residential property owner who already has, or is looking to create, an accessory apartment within the local tax district in the center of town.

Borough Zoning Commission (BZC) Chairman Douglas Nelson informed The Newtown Bee that the new regulations were unanimously endorsed by his panel on October 28.

All accessory apartments currently existing in the borough must comply with or be brought into compliance with the new regulations, which took effect November 11.

During a February 12 discussion, Nelson noted that although they are illegal, there are many de facto accessory apartments at residential properties in the borough. One estimate puts their number at “several dozen.”

Such facilities sometimes are known as “in-law apartments.” Local officials often learn that such facilities exist through complaints lodged by people living near them.

Nelson noted that accessory apartments have never legally been allowed by the commission. The borough enacted its zoning regulations long before the town created its zoning regulations in 1958.

“Anyone with this kind of facility should be aware of the liability, and to bring it under compliance,” Nelson said. “Accessory apartments are now allowed and will be approved as long as the homeowners conform to these regulations.”

Rob Sibley, Newtown’s deputy director of planning, land use, and emergency management said he identified “numerous” illegal apartments when he was appointed Borough zoning enforcement officer and conservation director last year.

“When I took the position of Borough ZEO in mid-2019, I invited the BZC to review the Borough Zoning Regulations to be more aligned with its neighboring communities’ zoning regulations, all of which allow for apartments to be accessory to a principal use,” Sibley said.

Drafting Guidelines

At that point, Sibley said he drafted regulations which echoed Newtown’s and the surrounding communities’ allowances.

“The Borough Zoning Commission modified that draft to reflect their currently adopted Borough Zoning Regulations,” Sibley said.

It only took one meeting to pass after the draft was reviewed by the commission.

After postponing final action since early this year due to pandemic restrictions, Sibley said he was happy to see the Borough formalizing the use of such dwelling spaces.

“I am pleased to now have the ability to certify the use of an accessory apartment in the Borough of Newtown,” he added. “The Borough Zoning Commission worked hard to identify the needs of the Borough community along with promoting the health and the general welfare of the Borough citizens. I thank them for recognizing the community’s need.”

On October 1, the Newtown Planning & Zoning Commission approved the referral after determining its components were consistent with the Town Plan Of Conservation and Development (POCD). The town Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) has zoning regulations that allow accessory apartments, both in “attached” form, or within a house, or in “detached” form, oftentimes as residential space above an outbuilding garage.

Speaking on the referral, Newtown P&Z Chairman Don Mitchell said “the POCD is replete with suggestions that we increase not only the stock of housing, but the types of housing in Newtown, and especially with all the new COVID restrictions.”

Mitchell noted that “many kids are moving home, people are having to take care of parents, and so this would allow someone to take their single-family residence, with restrictions, and add an apartment, which connotes a separate entrance, its own cooking facility, and so forth.”

Land Use Director George Benson echoed Sibley’s observation that the town currently has a list of violators of old, illegal apartments that would have to be brought up to code with these regulations in place.

Regulation Specifics

Nelson said many of the new regulations apply to both attached and detached accessory apartments, although structures that are not attached must have a design that maintains the appearance of the premises as a single family house. Also, the separate building containing the detached accessory apartment must be placed to the rear of the lot so as to minimize its view from the street.

Any lot containing a detached accessory apartment must have a minimum of one acre and be served by public water and sewer.

Such detached structures can have a maximum of 1,000 square feet of interior space or 40 percent of the gross floor area of the principle dwelling, whichever is less, as long as the principle dwelling has a minimum gross floor area of 1,500 square feet.

The rental period for the any accessory apartment must be greater than one month and the accessory apartment cannot be used for transient lodging. In any application, the owner must maintain residence on the same property.

Accessory apartments within qualified dwellings are allowed a maximum gross floor area of 900 square feet or 40 percent of the gross floor area of the principle dwelling, whichever is less. Accessory apartments cannot be located in a basement or cellar unless the basement/cellar constitutes a full story with exterior access on at least half of the foundation.

For lots of less than one acre without public water and sewer, a zoning request for an accessory apartment cannot increase the number of bedrooms of the existing dwelling or the gross floor area by more than 20 percent.

Attached accessory apartments must be located in the same building as the single family dwelling with not more than one bedroom, a kitchen, and a full bathroom, along with two means of egress, including a separate outside door — and a maximum occupancy of two.

Two off-street parking spaces must be provided for an accessory apartment or detached apartment in addition to those required for the principal residence.

Detached accessory apartments are permitted to have not more than one bedroom, a living room, a kitchen, a full bathroom, and two means of egress including a separate outside door; they also are allowed a maximum of two occupants.

Borough Warden Jay Maher was pleased to see that after several months of discussion, the Borough zoning commission addressed a most sought after text amendment to its regulations regarding attached and detached apartments within the Borough.

“At a time when more families are housing aging members and young adults, this action is a positive step forward and aligns the Borough with the town’s regulations,” Maher said. “I am confident that our Borough zoning officer will offer his assistance as needed by our residents. I thank the commission for their efforts.”

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