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Town officials endorse senior housing bylaws at public hearing

The Planning Board held the first public hearing for the two bylaw amendments it has proposed for the Spring Town Meeting on May 15. Several public officials endorsed the bylaws at the sparsely attended April 5 hearing, and the Planning Board continued the hearing to May 3.

Council on Aging Board of Directors Chair Beth Williams approved of the Planning Board’s multiphase plan to increase Harvard’s supply of senior housing. The board will introduce bylaws allowing different housing types over a series of town meetings, starting with the General Senior Housing and the Accessory Dwelling Unit bylaws this spring. Williams described the two proposed bylaws as “much more palatable” than the long, complex senior housing bylaw that the Planning Board had been working on before the Fall 2020 Town Meeting.

According to Council on Aging Director Debbie Thompson, surveys within the last decade have indicated that the top two reasons Harvard’s older citizens leave town are high taxes and that: “They have nowhere else to go when they want to downsize. Their houses are too big. They want to find somewhere smaller and easier to handle, with everything on one floor.” She commended the Planning Board on crafting bylaw proposals that would help address these issues.

Select Board member Rich Maiore described himself as “a big supporter” of the senior housing initiative and said the proposed bylaws reflect how well the Planning Board has gathered feedback from the public during the last few months. He said to make sure the bylaws pass, it will be important for supporters to speak in favor of them at Town Meeting.

Director of Community and Economic Development Chris Ryan said he had spoken informally with the building commissioner and members of the Zoning Board of Appeals, and that both had approved of the bylaw proposals.

Planning Board member Jane Biering said she had asked several architects and developers, including Mark O’Hagan of the Craftsman Village development, their opinions about the proposed age-accessible design guidelines. According to her, they have said that the criteria are acceptable.

Finance Committee member Eric Ward asked the board to clarify the owner occupancy requirement of the accessory dwelling unit bylaw. Ryan explained that the owner of a property with an accessory dwelling unit must use that property as their primary residence, but they may live in either of the two parts: the main house or the accessory unit.

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