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Newton OK’s accessory apartments for single- and two-family homes

As part of an ongoing effort to add more housing to Newton’s neighborhoods, the City Council approved a new ordinance Monday that allows homeowners add accessory apartments to residential properties.

The intention of the ordinance is to diversify housing choices in Newton while respecting the city’s residential character. The goal is to create more housing units with “minimal adverse effects” on Newton’s neighborhoods, according to the ordinance.

The city identified accessory apartments in a housing strategy released last June. That report called accessory apartments “one of the most innocuous ways to create a modest increase in supply” of housing. It also noted that the apartments offer new opportunities for seniors to remain in Newton.

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The impact of rising housing costs is acutely felt in Newton, where city officials report the median cost for a single-family home rose from $638,000 in 2003 to $1.1 million in 2016.

In a statement, Newton Mayor Setti Warren said the ordinance was vital to the city’s housing strategy.

“It is a great step in creating more housing diversity and moderately priced units, giving options to our families and seniors. I am thankful of the collaborative work with the city council and community members who have worked hard to get this important ordinance passed in our city.”

Under the measure, internal apartments can range in size from 250 square feet up to either 1,000 square feet or 33 percent of the total habitable space of the lot’s principal dwelling, whichever is smaller, according to the ordinance.

Internal apartments would be allowed by-right under the ordinance, and homeowners will also have the option of seeking a special permit from the council to add a detached accessory apartment under the regulation.

If approved with a special permit, detached apartments can be up 1,200 square feet or 40 percent of the principal dwelling’s habitable room, whichever is smaller.

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The council may also approve larger internal or detached apartments through a special permit.

James Freas, the city’s deputy director of planning and development, told councilors Monday the ordinance has several caveats: the regulation allows accessory apartments only on lots where the property owner lives on-site, and accessory apartments cannot be turned into condominiums.

Owners of accessory apartments must also report them to city officials, and the apartments must meet building and safety codes, plus undergo reviews by Newton’s inspectional services division, he said.

If adding an accessory apartment could mean a visible change to a home, additional reviews, including by the city’s planning department and the urban design commission, may be required, he said.

The City Council voted Monday 22 to 2 in support of the measure, with opposing votes from councilors Lisle Baker and Leonard Gentile.

The city’s zoning & planning committee previously approved the measure with four members in support, and four others — councilors Amy Mah Sangiolo, David Kalis, Brian E. Yates and Baker — abstaining.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.