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ADUs part 3: A family story

The following column, part three in a series about accessory dwellings units (ADUs) and Town Meeting Article 43, was written by Sanjay Newton, an Arlington resident, and tells why he supports the proposal.

ADU: accessory dwelling units logo

I support Article 43 because ADUs can make a small but meaningful contribution to Arlington housing.

I was really pleased to read Pam Hallett and the HCA's endorsement of Article 43  last week. It's great to hear that several units of permanently affordable housing would be one impact of this proposal.

I also believe that Article 43 is well crafted to help support families looking for multigenerational living situations. But before I address the parts of the proposal that I think are important, I first wanted to step back a bit and share a personal story about how an ADU was important to my own family.

Looking back

When my grandparents were first married and began their family, there was no money for them to buy a home. So my grandfather and his parents split their single-family house into what we would now call a main unit and an ADU.

Over the years, this ADU allowed both parts of the family to provide support to the other while retaining their privacy and independence. First, my grandparents lived in the smaller unit, then they swapped as their family grew.

If they had not been able to split their house, the lack of privacy would have made the arrangement untenable. Luckily, it was possible in that time and place and so my mother still recounts fond childhood memories of running “next-door” to visit her grandparents.

She also recalls going over to check on them as their health declined. Thanks to the nearby family support they were able to live in their house with dignity until their deaths. This kind of multigenerational support, first for a young family, and then later for aging parents, would not have been possible without an ADU.

I know from family experience that ADUs can allow people to make best use of their home as their needs change over time.

A well-thought-out proposal

As I have studied the proposal that Article 43 puts forward, I have come to appreciate how thoroughly thought out it is. The proponents have crafted this zoning bylaw change in a way that takes into account the things that other communities have learned about allowing ADUs over the last several years.

For example, other communities across the country have found that requiring a special permit discourages average homeowners from pursuing an ADU. In terms of special permits, this proposal treats ADUs like any other addition -- in most circumstances there is no need to appear before the Zoning Board of Appeals or receive a special permit.

Other communities have also found that complicated requirements about who can live in an ADU (and for how long) make it difficult for homeowners to adapt to the unexpected events that life brings. It can also affect their ability to secure favorable funding from a bank.

The attestation in this proposal ensures that homeowners will be building ADUs, gives the building inspector something simple to enforce, and acknowledges that life does not always continue on the path we envision. Once we enact this proposal, I look forward to seeing ADUs spring up around town, providing space for a grown child to return, allowing an aging couple to remain in place, adding a small apartment to the rental market, or adding an affordable apartment to the HCA’s stock.

Join me in supporting ADUs

I hope that the rest of Town Meeting will join me in supporting Article 43 and allow by-right ADUs so that Arlington families and organizations like the HCA will have the opportunity to use their homes in ways that best serve them!

March 25, 2021: ADUs part 2: Why HCA supports Article 43


This opinion column was published Wednesday, April 7, 2021.


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