May 29, 2024

The Needham Channel

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Zoning and Budget Book-End Town Meeting

May 4, 2023
• An overview of the two night 2023 Annual Town Meeting, including the discussion and decision regarding Accessory Dwelling Units.

reported by Yuxiao Yuan

The 2023 Annual Town Meeting took place on May 1st and 3rd during which the town’s legislative body approved a $214 million operating budget for fiscal year 2024, representing a 4% increase compared to the current fiscal year.

Prior to the meeting, two articles were withdrawn by their proponents, including a Planning Board proposal to allow three car garages by right in certain areas, and a funding request for creating quiet zones at rail crossings.

While Town Meeting approved changes to the Zoning Bylaw regarding Accessory Dwelling Units, they did not pass provisions that would allow detached units. The Planning Board proposed the relaxing the requirements for Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs, in line with the 2022 Needham Housing Plan, which aims to increase affordable housing in the town. The proposed changes would allow attached ADUs by right, eliminating the requirement for a special permit through the Zoning Board of Appeals. Currently, the occupants of ADUs are limited to family members and caregivers, but the proposal would allow owners to rent out the units for extra income.

The original proposal also added provisions to allow detached ADUs with a special permit. Standalone ADUs not exceeding 15 feet in height could be built as close as five feet to the property line. The maximum unit size would be 900 square feet with one bedroom. The Select Board, Board of Health and the Council on Aging supported the changes, recognizing their potential to help lower income residents and local workers remain in the community.

In the Select Board statement of support, Heidi Frail suggested,”ADUs offer targeted support to people vulnerable to the high cost of suburban housing, be they seniors, adult children, people with disabilities, local workforce, single people or divorced parents hoping to stay in the community.”

But the Finance Committee challenged the idea that ADUs would definitely have a positive impact on the town, questioning whether they would truly benefit lower income renters. Carol Fachetti countered that the language wasn’t there, “There is no directive to offer below market rates in your ADU, particularly to unrelated persons. So the rate of an ADU that will be leased is a function of the prevailing real estate values within the town and their prevailing leasing rates at the time.”

She also expressed concerns detached ADUs could potentially drive down property values. “ADUs could potentially have a very positive impact on the town by enhancing property values, but potentially detracting from others where an ADU is sited close to an abutting property.”

The committee also pointed it out that if ADUs were to become more widespread, the increased demand for utilities, parking and other services could string the town’s resources.

Town Meeting member Michael Niden submitted a Motion to Amend prior to the meeting. He moved to remove all languages related to detached ADUs, stating these changes were not adequately vetted through public participation. Several residents spoke up in support of Niden’s motion. They criticized the Planning Board for what they perceived as a lack of effort in reaching out to the community, and urged the board to spend more time engaging with residents who may not be closely following town affairs.

“Has this article not been publicly discussed on platforms that could potentially reach the other 75% of residents?”asked Needham resident Molly Silverberg. “Because there is a great sense they would oppose it.”

“Do you know how many tax bills I got in the mail last week from Needham?” echoed Henrietta Curley. “Five. If I had received one letter about these proposed ADU changes, I would’ve been involved a long time ago.”

While some individuals spoke in defense of the town’s efforts to solicit public feedback, others encouraged the elected officials to take further steps. Town Meeting member Doug Fox shared, “I’ve been pushing for a long time to statistically survey the town to really find out how people think. I would hope leadership would consider that.”

The concern of losing the character of their single family neighborhoods was a common sentiment among many residents, leading them to call for a pause in expanding detached ADUs. Reading from prepared remarks, Needham resident Jay Curley said, “When we bought our home, I could not have imagined that my neighbor’s detached garage, that is on my property line, would ever become a source of multi-family housing.”

There were also more than a few voices in support of ADUs that evening. Jennifer Scheck-Kahn offered,”ADUs are no in no way affordable housing, but people who value it must also support an article such as this. One that offers housing for lower or middle income earners. If we value a community with economic diversity, we need to create one and this is how we start.”

Many members expressed their personal support for the article, but felt the need to hold off on endorsing it on behalf of their constituents. Town Meeting Member Erik Bailey made the case for asking for more time. “We should have a little more community engagement, such that those who have been saying they didn’t know about it, have a chance to hear about it. Bring it back to us in the fall, bring it back to us next May and hopefully we will pass it with full community support.” However, Town Meeting ultimately voted in favor of the amended zoning article, adopting the changes without including the provisions for detached ADUs. Other articles approved by Town Meeting included a $100,000 funding request for a town-owned land survey and $35,000 for the new design of the DeFazio playground. However, Article 37, which sought to amend the general bylaw regarding non-criminal dispositions, was referred back to the Select Board due to omissions discovered before the meeting. Finally, a citizen’s petition to ban the use of single-use plastic bags in town was also passed.

Recordings of both meetings can be found on needhamchannel.org.


This story ran as part of the Needham Channel News, a weekly newscast airing on The Needham Channel every Thursday at 7:30pm. The Needham Channel News can be found on the Community Channel: Comcast 9, Astound 15 and Verizon 29. Most Thursdays it also can be viewed on our HD Channel on Verizon 2129, Astound 613 and streaming on this site.