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Planning Board sets multiyear plan for bylaws to promote senior housing

The Planning Board has decided to propose two housing bylaws for Spring Town Meeting: an update to Harvard’s existing accessory apartment bylaw and a senior housing bylaw that would set the requirements for future senior housing bylaws. At its Feb. 18 meeting, the Planning Board voted unanimously in favor of the proposal, which is part of a multiyear plan for improving housing for Harvard’s older residents.

The board’s current plan for updating the accessory apartment bylaw would increase the maximum size from 1,500 to 2,000 square feet, to match the feedback received from older residents about the amount of living space they desire. It would also establish universal design standards focused on accessibility and ease of use for older people. Apartments following these standards would be allowed “by right,” decreasing the difficulty in getting approval for their construction.

The housing bylaw would not directly enable any new housing types but would set administrative criteria for future senior housing. These include universal design standards, age restrictions, preference for Harvard residents, and yearly development limits. Future bylaws that allow new senior housing types would then refer back to the stipulations in this bylaw. The board hopes to propose new housing types at future town meetings, starting with retirement communities and open-space clusters in fall 2021.

Planning Board chair Justin Brown questioned whether the proposed plan was too cautious, asking, “Are we addressing the needs of our seniors? Are these changes sufficient?” According to Planning Board member Jane Biering, the slower pace is a response to public feedback.

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