In-law housing rules may be loosened in Scarborough

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SCARBOROUGH — Home owners will have a much easier time taking in additional family members if a proposed policy change is adopted.

The Town Council on Wednesday gave initial approval to an ordinance change that would streamline and simplify the process of adding “accessory units,” or in-law apartments, to homes.

Councilors also initially approved increases in Fire Department rescue fees.

Accessory dwellings are essentially small apartments, with their own kitchens and living spaces, usually built for relatives or live-in caregivers.

Councilors said the change is a sign of the times.

“This a step in the absolutely right direction,” Councilor Jessica Holbrook said. “A lot of families are looking to take in a mother or a father, or families are looking to take back in their college students.”

The town first established a procedure for accessory housing in 2003. The standards and approval process were tight because no one knew what to expect from the new form of cohabitation, Town Planner Dan Bacon said. 

“The town was right to be cautious,” he said Wednesday. “But since then the town has learned a lot about these units.”

The Board of Appeals has approved about 10 to 15 accessory units per year with few complaints or problems along the way.

The proposed changes include:

• Shifting accessory units from special exception to a permitted use. This means no more visits to the Zoning Board of Appeals and less cost on the part of the home owners.

• Eliminating a 2003 requirement that the property owner be present in order for the accessory unit to be occupied. This means mom and dad could stay in their adjoined apartment, even if Junior and his family are away for the summer.

• Allowing the accessory unit to be sized “in relationship to the principle single-family home on the property.” This change is designed to allow larger accessory units, while still ensuring the additions don’t take on the look of separate single-family homes.

• Eliminating the minimum lot size requirement (currently 15,000 square feet) necessary for building accessory units.

• Allowing outside stairways for accessory units, as long as they don’t face the street.

• Eliminating a requirement that new units be registered with the town and county deeds registry.

• Eliminating a requirement that 50 percent of detached buildings containing accessory units be available for use by the single-family home, but requiring that detached accessory units be within 100 feet of the existing home.

The changes were developed by town planning staff and residents who built accessory units on their properties.

Town councilors passed the first reading unanimously, saying that in a tough economy it’s good to make it easier for families to bring more generations together under single roofs.

“This certainly reflects the times we live in, and that’s good,” Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist said.

Rescue fees

Fire Chief Michael Thurlow said the rescue fee changes are necessary to more accurately reflect the cost of service and to bring Scarborough in line with other municipalities.

“The fee schedule had been based on the maximum Medicare allotment, which was less than the cost of service and less than what insurance companies were willing to pay,” he said. 

Increasing the price also helps push EMS costs to people who use the service, he said. 

The base would rise nearly $100, from $348 to $436. New fees would be created for services such as oxygen administration ($75), cardiac monitors ($100), defibrillation ($100) and paramedic intercepts for other towns ($300).

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine