Littleton adopts design-based senior housing, inclusionary zoning bylaws

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Following through on recommendations included in its master plan, Littleton’s Special Town Meeting on Oct. 30 adopted a new senior housing bylaw focused on design rather than age restrictions, and the town’s first inclusionary zoning bylaw to promote the creation of affordable housing in larger developments.
 
Instead of age-restricted units, the new senior housing bylaw identifies a range of units, including small, single-family units, duplexes and townhouses, along with assisted living and nursing facilities, and sets design standards that make them accessible to those with mobility issues. The intent is to entice developers to build more senior-appropriate housing in town.
 
The inclusionary zoning bylaw requires developments with six or more housing units to designate 10 percent of those units as affordable for low- and moderate-income households. Developments with fewer than 19 units may pay a fee rather than including affordable units, with the fee going into an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, also approved by Town Meeting in October, that will be used to support the creation of more affordable housing.
 
Littleton Planning Administrator Maren Toohill said the townwide senior housing bylaw replaces the town’s over-55 housing development bylaw, which failed to spur the production of enough housing units or the types that seniors have been seeking. She said the town determined the types of units that seniors seek through close work with the Council on Aging and the Elder and Human Services Department.
 
Toohill said town officials did hear some concerns from the community about removing the age restriction for senior housing, but said the units will be “age-targeted” because of their design standards. For instance, there cannot be stairs between the driveway and the first floor, all the planned uses on the main floor have to meet accessibility standards, and grab bars must be installed in bathrooms.
 
“You look at the design,” she said. “You don’t try to deed restrict from the other end.”
 
As the town worked with consultant Judy Barrett to examine its production of senior and affordable housing, Littleton Planning Board Chair Ed Mullen said he learned more about the economics of housing production.
 
“I didn’t understand how the age restrictions were keeping developers out because they couldn’t make a profit,” Mullen said. “It wasn’t economically sustainable for the town or the developers.”
 
Lifting the age restriction, he said, means that the homes could be appropriate for others with mobility issues, such as disabled veterans.
 
“We didn’t want to the limit the developer,” he said. “Then if he can’t move it, we want to be able to step it down perhaps, in a worst case scenario, and make it available to a single mom with one child. It gets them a foothold in the community, a good town to live in, and at some point maybe they can move to a bigger place.”