Justin Whittier-President Federal Street Neighborhood Association

Tomorrow, Monday, July 8, at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers, there will be a Joint Public Hearing on a proposal to amend Salem’s ordinances relative to Accessory Living Areas (ALAs) (3.2.8). Our present ordinance offers a reasonable way to support seniors and those in need of in-home services by making provision for an additional living space which can accommodate family members, care-givers and the like. The proposed change is billed the same way — as allowing “Granny flats.” But the reality is otherwise.
The proposed ordinance would fundamentally alter our present ordinance. It would remove existing protections (e.g. the requirement for approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals), and it would even make possible the subdivision of one residence into two rental units, non-owner-occupied, against present zoning. The potential negative consequences for Salem neighborhoods are many.
This is about a lot more than “Granny flats.”
You can attend Monday night’s meeting and make your concerns known, or you can email the councillors at CityCouncilors@salem.com. and Planning Board staff Mason Wells mwells@salem.com for the Planning Board

Below is an outline of issues:

  1. The present ordinance restricts ALAs to single-family (R1) districts. This makes sense because there is no provision for another unit in R1. (R1 allows only one unit by definition.) The proposed ordinance extends ALAs to R2 districts (like our neighborhood), as well as R3 and RC districts. Why do we need to extend the ordinance to these? As presented in public meetings sponsored by the City and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, ALAs were only considered for R1 districts. The potential negative implications of adding significant numbers of housing units to our already dense neighborhoods have not been reviewed
  2. There would no longer be restrictions to family members and caregivers — and an ALA would NO LONGER EXPIRE when the owner changes, meaning that the ALA would simply become another unit in perpetuity. This could fundamentally alter the character of R1 and R2 neighborhoods and greatly add to already dense R3 neighborhoods. Understand, this amendment could effectively eliminate R1 neighborhoods and transform R2 neighborhoods to R3.
  3. The present ordinance requires a Special Permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals. The proposed ordinance would allow an ALA to be added BY RIGHT — meaning no oversight from the ZBA, no public input, anyone can do it right away. In fact, a building can be EXPANDED to provide for an ALA without a Special Permit.
  4. The proposed ordinance would allow the construction of additions which DO NOT COMPLY with the underlying zoning or the construction of ENTIRELY NEW BUILDINGS via Special Permit. Imagine your neighbor squeezing a new building onto their property.
  5. The ALA use can be terminated if the rules are not followed — but WHAT GOOD DOES THAT DO when a new unit or building HAS BEEN CONSTRUCTED? We already have enforcement issues in our neighborhood with short-term rentals and the City’s ability to enforce its own rules. How well would the City deal with what could be a massive expansion of enforcement responsibilities?
  6. The proposed ordinance via Special Permit would allow an ALA to waive requirements for parking (adding an untold number of cars to our already overcrowded streets), for the removal of trees on the property and for the size of new construction. Consider the possible consequences for the amount of green space and open space within neighborhoods.

The text of the proposed ordinance can be found in the link below:


Federal Street Neighborhood Association
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