Smart Growth: Multi-unit housing
Updated: Apr 30
This year at Town Meeting you'll vote on 2 Warrant Articles (#22 and #23) designed to encourage more compact development in our existing residential neighborhoods, General Residence (GR).
Article #22 would increase the allowable number of housing units to be constructed, (or converted in an existing home), from the current 2-units to 3-units. And Article #23, would increase the allowable limit to 4-units. Supporting the development of compact housing is on the basic tenets of 'smart growth'.
The US EPA advises that a smart growth approach to housing, with compact development, green design and construction, and transportation options, can help communities protect the environment and create more affordable neighborhoods. Conventional housing development has contributed to the loss of rural land to residential development at a rate three times faster than population growth (Source: Development at the Fringe and Beyond)
Large-lot, dispersed housing development challenges our ability to maintain and protect air and water quality, as well as Town government's ability to finance and maintain infrastructure including schools, utilities, street networks, and police and fire protection.
The US housing market is shifting. Boomers and GenXers will downsize in the next two decades, away from single-family housing. And many Millennials and GenZ do not want large-lot single homes. Demand for walkable communities is growing. “It is illegal on 75 percent of the residential land in many American cities to build anything other than a detached single-family house,” reports The New York Times." Source: Arthur C. Nelson, Missing Middle Housing: Thinking Big and Building Small to Respond to Today’s Housing Crisis.
Learn more about Smart Growth here.
Currently, building small residential scale multi-unit housing requires a special permit, large property area and other regulations. A 3-unit home in Williamstown today, would require a 30,000 sq.ft. property, 3 times the minimum single family home lot size. Similarly, a 4-unit would require a 40,000 sq.ft. property. The proposed bylaw amendment reduces required lot size.
Other dimensional requirements ensure that we prevent over-crowding. There are limits on building height (35 ft or 2.5 stories), side yard (15 ft.), back yard (15 ft.) and front yard (30 ft.) setbacks and lot coverage (20%).
There are currently about 2 dozen 3-unit homes and one dozen 4-unit homes in Williamstown that were built prior to zoning laws that went into effect in 1980s. The map shows the approximate location of several multi-unit homes in Williamstown (note: not all are shown)
Multi-unit housing can fit into our existing neighborhoods and offer residents an alternative to single-family housing on a large lot. Multi-unit homes could either increase the number of rental units available or be sold as condominiums.
Here is a picture of a multi-unit home on Southworth St. You'll find lots of other examples around town, if you look carefully.
Check out the Planning Board's FAQ for more info!