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“Accessory” HOME

September 22, 2020

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Forgive the sexism, but once upon a time it was said that “A man’s home is his castle.” That ownership imperative meant that “Single Family Zoning” was the Law of Suburban America for three generations after World War 2. In the 21st century, Climate Change, Sustainability, New Urbanism and now COVID 19 have all raised the question of “Density” – more people living on each acre of land.

Connecticut has some of the most established and built-out suburban communities in America. There is now precious little land left for residential development – so little that “tear-downs” has become a word. That scarcity has meant that housing costs, and taxes, are among the highest anywhere in the country as well.

When need butts up against opportunity change happens. But change, as someone once said, is hard. In the light of a pandemic the density of living in mid and high rises in New York City is now newly dangerous. In the full apprehension of climate change more people living closer together creates less carbon and thus lessening the cost on infrastructure. The competition between property value and social good is coming to a head in one building type, not new, but newly important.

Across the country the legality of “Accessory Dwelling Unit”’s (CDU) is being debated, and zoning laws changed. There is a growing drumbeat to modify local zoning codes to accept greater flexibility beyond the freestanding single-family home zoning that has dominated suburban life for three generations. The larger wheels of sustainability, diversity, and increasing the value of our homes have meant new ways of thinking about how we protect communities in the ways zoning codes restrict uses.

The issues are complex. What about the benefits of intergenerational living in one place? Why shouldn’t you be allowed to expand your home without “adding on” and killing trees and making massive homes? Should zoning promote income diversity? As parents age, and children cannot afford to live separately in Connecticut should several generations of families be allowed to live on one site in their own dwelling units?

Beyond that, the post pandemic economy will be different from the one we have now. We may need to expand the use of single-family homes to recognize home offices. Costs may increase to the point where the homes purchased generations ago provide an income stream (for both property taxes for towns and rental income for homeowners)?

As we come out of sequestration, get vaccinated, and look to the future, the landscape will change. Like the three bear’s porridge, the density of The City may be “too hot”, the isolation of the single-family home may be “Too Cold”, but something in between may be “Just Right”.

HOME PAGE welcomes those on the cutting edge of this evolving landscape: Homeowner Paul Czepiga knows the issue as one who is creating a “CDU” for his family, Joan Arnold directs Allied Community Enterprises in Westchester and has worked in all forms of housing prototypes and reinventions, and Carrie Makover is on the Fairfield Affordable Housing Committee, and served as a planner in Westport for over 11 years. JOIN US!

 

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