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Planning Board drafts senior housing bylaws for Spring Town Meeting

The Planning Board has two bylaw proposals for the Spring Town Meeting that are intended to increase Harvard’s supply of senior housing. The Senior Residential Development bylaw lays the ground rules for future senior housing developments, while the Accessory Dwelling Unit bylaw modifies Harvard’s existing accessory apartment bylaw. The Planning Board finalized the proposals at its March 11 meeting and will begin public hearings on the bylaws at its April 5 meeting.

The Senior Residential Development bylaw would set the limits and requirements for all future senior housing developments. Currently, only accessory dwelling units and assisted living facilities would be affected. However, the Planning Board intends to eventually add more varieties of elder housing that would all be affected.

The bylaw sets age-appropriate design standards intended to make new dwellings appealing and accessible to older citizens. These include a zero-step entrance, a 36-inch doorway, key living facilities being located on the same floor, and more. It also requires larger facilities to comply with state and federal accessibility guidelines.

The proposed bylaw includes two levels of age restrictions. For projects intended for residents age 62 or older, all units must be age-restricted. For developments intended for those 55 years or older, 80% of units must be occupied by at least one person of that age.

The bylaw limits the total number of senior housing units to 15% of Harvard’s entire housing supply. It also caps the number of units that the Planning Board can approve in any given year at 100.

The Accessory Dwelling Unit bylaw would allow units to be as large as 1,500 square feet, while the existing one allows just 1,200. According to the Planning Board, the new maximum size is based on responses to the senior housing survey. The bylaw would allow an accessory unit of up to only half the size of the primary house. This means that a house of 3,000 square feet or greater could have an additional 1,500 square feet of accessory unit space built, but houses smaller than that could include only smaller units.

The new bylaw would also allow accessory units as a by-right use if they follow age-appropriate design standards laid out in the Senior Residential Development bylaw. Accessory units currently require a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, and any units that do not follow the universal design criteria would continue to require a special permit.

These bylaws are still being edited by the Planning Board and reviewed by other town officials, but the board does not currently intend to make any more substantive changes.

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