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Letter to the Editor: Cost-Effective Tool for Housing Diversity Eliminated in Final Zoning Draft

Dear Editor:

The last chances for public input on the new Chelsea zoning ordinance are fast approaching.

The Zoning Ordinance will be reviewed at the April 20 Planning Commission meeting at 7 p.m. This meeting includes a Public Hearing on the Ordinance, which is available at

When the Commission approves this Ordinance, it will be reviewed for adoption at the following two City Council meetings. Many positive changes are included in the revision, with one critical outstanding issue.

There has been much excitement and discussion about permitting Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) to promote housing diversity in Chelsea. ADU refers to adding an additional housing unit on your property, often called a “mother-in-law apartment”. This makes it possible to keep younger or older generations close, or to provide additional rental income, allowing people to stay in their homes while adding more housing options for renters.

The earlier drafts of the zoning plan differentiated between ADUs that are attached to or constructed within the original house and those that are detached in a separate building on the property. Detached ADUs were permitted in Single Family Residential Zones but Attached ADUs were not allowed there.

Since most residential areas in Chelsea are single family, this severely restricted the use of this important and less expensive tool for creating diverse housing opportunities, a goal stated in our Master plan and supported by our citizens. It seemed that we were giving lip service to this goal while putting obstacles in its path. Why did attaching an ADU make it unacceptable?

One reason given for the prohibition on attached ADUs in single family zones was that it would be hard to legally differentiate between the Attached ADU and a duplex. To this point, accessory uses are clearly defined in the ordinance and could be easily applied to housing. (From the Zoning Ordinance, in Definitions – “ACCESSORY STRUCTURE. An attached or detached subordinate structure, the use of which is clearly incidental and related to that of the principal structure or use of the land, and which is located on the same lot as that of the principal structure or use.”)

Any lingering concerns about confusing an attached ADU with a duplex can be addressed by restricting the size of the attached ADU. Thus this reason for restricting attached ADUs does not hold up.

In addition, the following quote from the memo of 1/22/2021 prepared by the city’s zoning consultants for the Joint Council/Commission Work Session on 1/25/2021 showed clearly that there was confusion and concern about why there was differentiation between Attached and Detached ADUs.

One of the biggest pieces of feedback we’ve seen from the community lies in this table*. Folks want ADUs to be a permitted, primary use case for single family homes. I see that DEtached is listed as permitted, but attached is not. Why is that? Does that mean that if you have a single-family home in RF-1 and you’d like to add an ADU onto your home, you cannot? And it also looks like there is not an option for a special use case application for that either, why?

Why no attached ADUs in R-1?

Very disturbingly, in the final draft of the new ordinance, instead of expanding the use of Attached ADUs, this valuable option is eliminated entirely. Attached ADUs are never mentioned. ADU is defined as being constructed in a separate building. An important tool for housing diversity is not just restricted but eliminated.

Let’s contact the council, planning commission and development director so that they know that we want to live up to our stated goal to actually increase less expensive housing diversity options by bringing back Attached ADUs in single family and two family areas.

We also want to acknowledge the hard work and positive steps being taken in the zoning revision process. Contact information can be seen at:

*The table referred to in the quote is in Sec. 3.06 in the early draft of the Zoning Ordinance and shows Attached and Detached ADUs separately, with both being permitted in R-2 (Two Family) and R-3 (Multiple Family), but only Detached being allowed in R-1, the Single Family Residential Zones.

From the Housing Action Group of One World One Family Task Force

Susan Morse
Debbie Osborne
Sandra Vadlamudi

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