“The most important thing to do is communicate with your neighbors,” said Cynthia Sibold, the first Wellesley homeowner to receive construction approval for an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) under an article approved by Town Meeting in April 2022. “We told our neighbors what we wanted to do, answered a lot of questions, and made sure we followed all the rules.”
A little bit of luck was involved, as well. About a year before ADUs were approved, Sibold had already made plans to tear down her rickety, detached two-car garage, which was tenanted by a robust population of squirrels. Sibold approached the town and asked about the possibility of doing exactly what she’s doing right now—building a new garage with about 700 square-feet of living area above. She and her husband, Bill, envisioned a snug space behind their main house. One with its own sleeping, cooking and sanitation facilities, perfect for visitors, or as temporary housing for any of their three adult kids, should they ever need a place to land as they looked for jobs and housing in the area. Sure, the squirrels would be disappointed, but family comes first, the Sibolds figured.
The town back then said yes to the new garage, but no to the plan for second-floor living space. The bylaws didn’t support the idea. Sibold sighed and started the permitting and design process for a new garage, sans living space above. Oh well, the second floor of the garage could be storage space. Who doesn’t need more storage space?
This is where the luck part comes in. Before the garage plans got to the point where change work orders became financially impractical, Sibold says she opened up her laptop to catch the latest town news on The Swellesley Report and saw this headline: Wellesley OKs accessory dwelling units.
“I’m never lucky with real estate stuff,” Sibold said. “Except this time.”
Since luck favors the prepared, she reviewed the town’s definition of an ADU—”an apartment within or on the same property as an owner-occupied, single-unit residential dwelling, that is subordinate to the main (or principal) dwelling unit”—and kicked into gear. In short order Sibold did that neighborhood communication thing, then applied for and received the necessary approvals (including a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals regarding setbacks). A particularly satisfying moment came when the ZBA expressed its unanimous opinion that the project as presented would not “disturb or disrupt the customary character of the residential neighborhood, and is in harmony with the intent and purpose” of the zoning bylaw that allows ADUs.
We were invited in for a tour of the work-in-progress. Take a look:
If you’re interested in the possibility of constructing your own ADU, start your research with this town document that covers definitions, code compliance, and more, and review the Planning Department’s page on the Town of Wellesley website. Interim Planning Director Eric M. Arbeene said in an email, “We are still working on drafting the regulations and developing an appropriate application form.”
You can contact the Planning Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or 781-431-1019, ext. 2232.
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