Master plan and proposed zoning changes support housing for all

In a letter to the editor, Brandee Nelson writes, "The warrant articles proposed by the planning board seek to enable careful growth to create housing opportunities in support of the master plan goals."

To the editor:

The Great Barrington Planning Board has made no secret about needing to create housing opportunities so those of us who work in our community can also live in our community. I hope all residents of Great Barrington will come out to the special town meeting Tuesday night to attend town meeting and vote on the warrant articles.

I want to address comments received from several people who have complained about the proposed zoning articles. With housing prices, both sales and rentals, increasing at a tremendous rate, housing affordability and the opportunities for people to enter into the housing market to build equity and family wealth become more challenging. Several of the planning board’s proposed zoning measures are intended to create opportunities for property owners to add much needed housing to our community. A recent letter from a resident on the Hill suggests that the zoning measures violate the master plan. That is false. This is what the master plan lists as priorities and these priorities guide the planning board’s decision making:

  • Land Use Goal No. 5 – “Ensure all neighborhoods are safe places with housing and home business opportunities for people of all ages and incomes”;
  • Housing Goal No. 1 – “Allow for a diversity of housing opportunities available at a variety of price levels and in infill locations“; and
  • Housing Goal No. 2 – “Proactively create lower cost and affordable units.”

How do we achieve these goals while respecting the existing character of the community? We look at existing development patterns in the community and hold to them. We have proposed warrant article 13 to maintain the setback requirements for accessory buildings, like garages, sheds and accessory dwelling units in a manner similar to the garages, carriage buildings and small barns located in the rear of many existing older homes.

We have proposed warrant Article 15 to allow an ADU to increase in size from 650 square feet to 900 square feet and to provide the possibility for an ADU to be owned in the form of a condo, which could allow a young couple to build equity. The condo form of ownership allows for individual unit space to be owned by an individual, while common areas like yards become shared ownership — for example, the condos on Oak and Taconic Street or on Copper Beech Lane.

We have proposed warrant Article 16 to allow a moveable tiny house to be considered an ADU provided that it has adequate utilities, similar to any other ADU. And a word on ADUs: some claim ADUs will result in densification of our neighborhoods (which is what we want if we are also concerned about preserving farm land and open space) and a proliferation of Airbnbs. Our ADU law has been in effect for approximately eight years and in that time, I can recall fewer than a dozen ADUs being created. Most recently, a proposal for an ADU was approved by the planning board for a family to create a separate living space in their multi-generational household — great thing in this challenging economy.

We have proposed warrant Article 17 to correct a deficiency in our existing code that prevents people with very small lots from constructing an average-sized home footprint. This warrant article does not change the requirements to be building setbacks from property lines maintaining green space between properties.

We have proposed warrant Article 19 to provide a purpose for the planned unit development (a type of residential development) to encourage the creation of new neighborhoods that respect the dense historical development patterns seen in Housatonic and Great Barrington’s older neighborhoods to provide infill development where existing infrastructure is located rather than result in suburban sprawl development, which eats into the open space in the community.

If we want Great Barrington to flourish, we need to grow in a careful and considered manner. The warrant articles proposed by the planning board seek to enable careful growth to create housing opportunities in support of the master plan goals. Please vote to support the planning board’s warrant articles.

Brandee Nelson
Great Barrington

The writer is the chair of the Great Barrington Planning Board.