P&Z seeks input on ‘granny pods’

The Planning & Zoning Commission will be holding a public hearing tonight, Thursday, Dec. 7, on a new state law concerning temporary housing structures.

The hearing, which will be part of the commission’s regular meeting at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall council chambers, will seek public input on the law, which approves temporary health care structures, also known as “granny pods,” as allowable accessory units in single-family zones, unless the municipality opts out of the statute.

The law went into effect on Oct. 1; municipalities may opt out after that date but must approve valid temporary health care structure applications until an opt-out has been finalized. To opt out now, both the Planning & Zoning Commission and Town Council must vote to approve the opt-out.

Neighboring Newtown has already voted to opt out of the law, which was enacted to enable “the introduction of a new type of housing unit which will be an important option for Connecticut’s aging households seeking affordable, handicapped-accessible housing close to caretakers or family,” according to the Connecticut chapter of the American Planning Association.

A temporary health care structure, similar to a small mobile home, is a portable residential structure intended for occupation by an impaired person requiring caregiver assistance and offers an alternative for impaired residents who might otherwise have to enter a nursing home to obtain handicapped-accessible housing on their caregiver’s property.

The statute defines temporary health care structures as primarily assembled off-site, not built or placed on a permanent foundation, no more than 500 square feet in size, and in compliance with the state building code, fire safety code and public health code. Per the statute, the temporary health care structure must be occupied by an impaired person, may be subject to annual permit renewal, and must be removed within 120 days of the impaired person vacating the unit.

The caregiver living on the property must be a relative, legal guardian, or health care agent responsible for the unpaid care of a mentally or physically impaired person. Only one temporary health care structure is permitted per lot.

Per the statute, a participating municipality must approve or deny a permit within 15 business days after the application is filed but cannot deny a permit if the applicant provides proof of compliance with the statute and applicable building and public health codes.

Individuals seeking to install a temporary health care structure must apply for a permit. As part of the application, applicants must provide a statement by a state-licensed physician confirming that an occupant of the structure is impaired; and applicants must send notice of the application to abutting property owners within three days of submitting the application.

Municipalities may require the structures to be accessible to emergency vehicles and connected to private water or septic systems or water, sewer and electric utilities serving the primary residence. Permittees have to post a bond of up to $50,000 to ensure compliance and submit confirmation annually that a structure is compliant. Municipalities can charge an initial permitting fee of up to $250 and an annual re-certification fee of up to $100, and have the structures inspected, at reasonable times convenient to the caregiver, to ensure compliance.

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