Knowledge Base

Accessory Dwellings

What is an accessory dwelling?

An accessory dwelling, also known as an in-law apartment or granny flat, is a dwelling unit that is located within or attached to the principal dwelling on a property. An accessory dwelling may also be located in a separate building on the property. The dwelling has its own kitchen and bathroom and is physically separated from the living area of the main house. The accessory dwelling is also billed separately for utilities.

Who may live in an accessory dwelling?

Anyone may live in an accessory dwelling and you don’t have to be related to the property owner, however, the property owner must live in either the main house or the accessory dwelling.

How large can an accessory dwelling be?

An accessory dwelling can have no more than 30% of the square footage of the main house, whether it is located within the main structure or in a detached structure. There is no minimum floor area.

Are there any other rules?

1. The lot must meet the minimum lot area requirement of the zoning district in which it is located. If the accessory dwelling is detached, the lot must also meet the shape and frontage requirements of the district and be on the same lot as the main house.
2. Only one accessory dwelling is permitted on a lot and it can’t be part of a multi-family house or development.
3. An attached accessory dwelling must be accessible to the main house by means of an operable door along a common wall.
4. No dwelling can be located in a basement unless at least 25% of the perimeter of the unit opens to grade and the ceiling is more than five feet above grade.
5. An attached accessory dwelling must maintain the exterior style and appearance of a single family house.
6. Attached units must comply with the building code and health and safety regulations. Detached units must have approvals from the Farmington Valley Health District, Water Pollution Control Authority and/or water company to assure the adequate provision of water supply and sewage disposal.

How do I get an accessory dwelling approved?

Attached accessory dwellings require a zoning permit and a building permit. You, your architect, or contractor must submit plans to the Building Department. These plans should be drawn to scale and show where the structure will be built on the property and any other features that are present, including existing buildings, driveways, well and septic system and any stream or wetland that may exist.

The Building Official and ZEO will review your plans for compliance with the building code and zoning regulations. The ZEO will also visit your property to assure that it complies with the regulations. You should stake or spray paint on the ground where the corners of the structure will be in order to assist the ZEO in determining compliance. 

If the plans comply with both the building code and the zoning regulations, the building and zoning permits will be signed and you can begin work. This process usually takes a few days depending on the backlog of applications that are awaiting review. During and after construction, you can expect the building official and ZEO to make periodic visits to ensure that the construction is consistent with the approved plans.

What about public hearings?

If you are proposing a detached dwelling or the attached dwelling you are proposing doesn’t meet the requirements for an attached dwelling, then you must get a special permit from the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z). P&Z will hold a public hearing within 65 days of receiving your application. Your application with plans must be submitted to the Land Use Office at least ten days before the meeting at which it will be received. 

The public hearing will be advertised in the newspaper by the Land Use staff and you will post a sign on your property indicating that there will be a public hearing. You will also notify all property owners within 100 feet of your property.

At the hearing, P&Z will accept testimony from you or your representative (architect, contractor, attorney, etc.) and anyone else who may want to testify, including neighbors. Once the hearing is closed, P&Z will consider whether your plans are appropriate for your property and neighborhood, is consistent with the Plan of Conservation and Development, its impact on the environment. P&Z may also attach reasonable conditions to your approval if they are necessary to lessen the dwelling’s impact on surrounding properties.

If P&Z approves a special permit, you may submit your plans to the Land Use Office for building and zoning permits.

The information contained herein is provided as guidance to assist the general public to address frequently asked questions. The information is not intended in any way to be an approval process or certification.

Updated 5/18/2016 6:16 PM
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