Planning Board recommends passage of affordable housing citizens petition article

May 3, 2021

The Planning Board voted 2-1 on May 3 to recommend the passage at Town Meeting of a citizens’ petition designed to promote the development of affordable housing.

Former Selectwoman Brenda Eckstrom proposed the zoning change, which is 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.

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 in the 1950s.

Current Wareham zoning bylaws 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 and the proposed lot lines existed on a previously approved subdivision plan. 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. This provision only applies to neighborhoods that were originally subdivided into 5,000 square foot lots (or 7,500 square foot lots, or 10,000 square foot lots, etc.). This would not allow someone with a three-acre lot in a low-density area cut a 5,000-square-foot lot off the corner of their land, for example.

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. 

The measure — Article 26 on the Special Town Meeting warrant — needs to pass by a simple majority.