Darien considers limiting extra living units: 'We don’t want folks occupying a pool house full-time'

Flags fly outside of Town Hall in Darien, Conn. Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. 

Flags fly outside of Town Hall in Darien, Conn. Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. 

Tyler Sizemore/Hearst Connecticut Media

DARIEN — After opting out of a state law permitting in-law apartments and "granny pads" as a way to increase affordable housing, Darien officials are now discussing what a town-specific approval process would look like for those accessory dwelling units.

In October, the town opted out of a state housing law that would allow single family homes to build ADUs without any special permission, citing concerns about overcrowding and septic system limitations, among others.

During its Mar. 7 meeting, members of the Planning and Zoning commission discussed how to allow homeowners to build ADUs without the commission having to scrutinize every request.

Commission Chairman Stephen Olvany suggested allowing ADUs on any property that is one or more acres of land and a more in-depth approval process for properties under that size.

“I don’t think we need to see every single two-acre piece of property that wants to put an ADU or a bedroom and a kitchen in a garage that’s way in the back,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a great use of our time.”

Vice Chairman George Reilly said the allowance could even be reduced to a half-acre, adding that his own property is a half-acre so he knew “what it could handle.”

Several commission members voiced concern that allowing ADUs on smaller scale properties could create issues with parking and traffic, both on the property and on the street. 

“When you’ve got one acre zoning in theory, you should have adequate space on the property to accommodate parking,” member Amy Barsanti said. “When you get into half-acre zoning… then it becomes an entirely different complexion for that neighborhood when you have potentially tenants parking on the street constantly.”

Planning and Zoning director Jeremy Ginsburg recommended creating a separate permit for ADUs so residents would not have to pay a special permit fee. 

Assistant director Fred Doneit also suggested any ADU permissions also take into account the size, type and location of any proposed unit.

The commission also discussed whether ADUs could help create more affordable housing options in town.

Ginsberg said the only way ADUs would count toward the town’s state-mandated affordable housing was if it was deed-restricted, which would require a homeowner to take on additional responsibilities such as annual certification and income verification.

“If you’re a typical homeowner, that could be a burden,” he said. “The town would get the benefit, but the homeowner would be out $12,000 a year for that.”

Olvany clarified that considering the affordability of ADUs was not necessarily about “chasing moratorium points” for state-mandated affordable housing.

In addition to considering how ADUs are approved, commission members also discussed how ADUs and other similar structures should be defined to accommodate concerns about safety and property capacity.

Under state law, an ADU is classified as a separate dwelling unit on the same lot as a primary residence that has cooking facilities and complies with or is otherwise exempt from any applicable building codes or safety regulations.

Olvany considered classifying detached pool houses — a frequent feature in Darien that don’t have kitchen facilities — as bedrooms to ensure they fall under fire code and septic and sewer regulations.

Member Adam Balgach also suggested adding a bathroom to the ADU definition given past concerns around whether the town would surpass its wastewater treatment agreement with Stamford.

Doneit clarified that a unit without a kitchen and working bathroom would not be considered an actual dwelling unit.

“We don’t want folks occupying a pool house full-time for multiple months of the year,” he said.

The commission expects to see a more comprehensive report on ADUs in April.