Citizens’ Zoning Proposal aims to increase affordable housing stock

Mar 22, 2021

Former Selectwoman Brenda Eckstrom has proposed a zoning change meant to create incentives for Wareham residents to increase the town’s stock of affordable housing through deed-restricted individual homes and apartments, rather than large 40B developments.

Eckstrom said the question of affordable housing in town has been on her mind for years. When she was first elected to the Board of Selectmen in 2005, she said she realized that she and her husband, who bought their home in the 1990s, might not have been able to afford to move into town at that point. 

Her zoning proposal is inspired by regulations other towns on the Cape have implemented.

The first section of the proposal regards subdividing properties. 

Many large sections of town, including Swifts Beach, Cromesett and Indian Mound, were built on 5,000 square foot lots. Those neighborhoods were developed before the state implemented zoning laws.

Current Wareham zoning laws require homes in residential districts to be built on lots of at least 30,000 square feet — that’s six times the size of the average lot in many Wareham neighborhoods.

Eckstrom’s proposal would reduce the minimum lot size for a single home to 5,000 square feet with 50 feet of frontage if the home has an affordability deed restriction. That would allow those who own double or triple lots in many areas of town to subdivide their land and sell the lot, or subdivide and build a home to sell or rent. 

In addition, Eckstrom said, the proposal would encourage development in existing neighborhoods, which would cut down on the clearing of new land. 

Eckstrom said that adding new homes scattered throughout existing neighborhoods would put less of a strain on town resources than adding large new apartment complexes.

The second part of Eckstrom’s proposal is designed to create a path for residents to add apartments to the affordable housing roster through building apartments as additions to their homes, renting out existing “in-law” apartments, or bringing existing illegal apartments up to code so they can be rented out affordably.

All such apartments would need to have an affordability deed restriction.

Eckstrom’s plan would only go into place until the town reaches the ten percent threshold of affordable housing that allows the town to deny new 40B developments. 

Eckstrom explained that the ten percent threshold is calculated every ten years based on the federal census, meaning that Wareham will get an updated number soon as the 2020 census is completed and reported out. Every two years, the state recalculates the numbers of affordable units in each town.

Therefore, Eckstrom said, she hoped the zoning change would allow the town to meet the ten percent threshold of affordable housing by the time the number of affordable units is recalculated in 2022, making the town exempt from 40B developments until at least 2030.

The proposal will be up for votes at the April 26 Town Meeting.

The complete text of the proposed zoning change is attached to this article.