Senate Kills Bill to Expand Accessory Dwelling Units

The New Hampshire Senate killed a bill to expand the right to build accessory dwelling units Wednesday, using a parliamentary tactic to prevent the proposal from returning again this year.

In a voice vote, the Senate moved to indefinitely postpone House Bill 1291. The bill would have given property owners the right to develop two accessory dwelling units on their properties and would have overridden any zoning board or planning board regulations that prevent two units.

The bill, which would expand upon a 2016 law that gives homeowners the right to develop one accessory dwelling unit by right, was hailed by proponents as a way to help address the state’s housing shortage. Amid an abnormally low vacancy rate and historically high home prices, housing experts say the state needs to build nearly 90,000 new units by 2040 in order to meet demand.

“There is no silver bullet to the housing crisis but each incremental step we can take matters,” said Sen. Rebecca Perkins-Kwoka, a Portsmouth Democrat who has advocated for housing expansion bills this session. “And these kinds of slight expansions of use allow for there to be almost what we call ‘invisible infill.’”

HB 1291 would have required that cities and towns allow two accessory dwelling units without any special requirements over lot sizes, setbacks, aesthetics, design review, frontage, or space limitations. Whatever requirements already applied to the underlying property type would also apply to the ADUs, the bill stated. The legislation would have allowed the ADUs to be attached or detached from the original home.

The bill received bipartisan support in the House, where it passed 230-143. But Senate Republicans raised concerns that it could lead to unsightly developments on properties, and argued that zoning codes should only be changed by local voters at town meetings, not by the Legislature.

Sen. Bill Gannon, a Sandown Republican, argued the bill would be unfair to people who buy homes in neighborhoods that are supposed to have single-family zoning.

“Picture if you might: Someone buys a house,” Gannon said “They come to New Hampshire and they buy a nice single family, in a “Leave it to Beaver” neighborhood, on a cul-de-sac.” If every house in that neighborhood built two detached accessory dwelling units, Gannon said, “we’re going to have problems.”

Sen. Denise Ricciardi, a Bedford Republican, pointed to communities in New Hampshire that have voted to allow accessory dwelling units, noting that the local control model allows communities that want to expand housing to do so.

But in a joint statement, Housing Action New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Association of Realtors, and the Business and Industry Association expressed disappointment.

“By voting down the ADU bill today, the Senate has closed the door on a simple solution to allow Granite Staters to use their own private property to help with the housing crisis,” the groups said. “Our organizations will continue to mobilize our thousands of members to educate state lawmakers so they can start providing solutions instead of voting down important housing legislation.”

This story was republished from The New Hampshire Bulletin under a Creative Commons license.