Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Monday, January 5, 2009

Time For A Rewrite Of The Bylaws

The summer I graduated from high school was a trip. I left home the day after I graduated, and struck out on my own.

In 1972, it was the thing to do.

That summer, while I got my act together, I crashed in a variety of places, including my car, but by fall I had my first apartment. It was in an older home, and was very small. After a few roommates, and little privacy I was offered a place at a friends house. The apartment was an in-law apartment built especially for his grandfather. The apartment was attached to the 1950's ranch style house, and over a new two car garage. It was a nice, clean place. It had a large bedroom, a large bathroom and shower, and a combination living room / dining room. There was no kitchen, but rather a sliding door to the owners kitchen for use by the grandfather. That was fine, I ate out all the time, but I did manage to put a refrigerator in the place for essentials like left over subs and beer.

That apartment saved me.

The rent was cheap, only $150.00 a month, and heat was included. For a 19 year old man with two jobs, and not a clue as to where he would be in five years, it was a God-send. It offered shelter, security, and the companionship of my friend and his family any time I felt the need. When I did start school, it offered a quiet place to study, and base my operations from. Other apartments in town were renting for two to four times the amount; something I could not afford at the time, and since I was paying for my schooling on my own, every penny counted.

This "in-law" apartment presented itself to me at time in my life when it was most needed. I have often wondered where I would be if I did not find a place that I could live in with little distraction, privacy, and for an amount I could afford. Would I have continued in the other place with the nightly parties, finding other people sleeping in my bed, eating all my groceries, and treating it as a crash pad for visitors from all corners of the globe, and not have been affected by it?

I doubt it.

There were, and still are, many "in-law" apartments in my hometown. Many are in older homes, and have been used for a hundred years or so. Others, are in more modern homes, like the one I rented, and even more current houses.

Back in the 1930's, when lodging was needed for all those out of work, families could augment their income by renting rooms, or pieces of their homes. This was a win-win for all parties for obvious reasons. The same can be said for economic times, and needs of today.

If an older resident has some space that exists. or could be designated an "in-law" apartment, they should be able to rent it out to whomever they please. Blood relation, or not. For generations this type have arrangement has insured that many folks could afford to stay in the home they have known for many years, and not have to move out. Those that do, usually move in with one of their children, and if they are fortunate, their child has in-law apartment in a town that allows them.

What a twist.

Sturbridge should amend its bylaw regarding the use of these kind of living arrangements. If a person owns a home that has the space to rent out as an apartment with its own entrance, bath, and bedroom, then why not? An extra car in the driveway, or another person or two at the address won't cause any extra congestion. No more so than having two or three teens all with their own vehicle.

Imagine what this could mean for the young single person on their own for the first time, or with a small child and totally on their own. Maybe, an older person that is in between jobs, and needs housing that is affordable, or even a much older person that no longer can afford, or need a large place of their own, but chooses to down size.

Bylaws and regulations that prevent, and restrict opportunities like this from existing are nothing more than the opinion of those in a position to place their personal feelings into law. They do nothing to make our lives better, or safer.

Of course, there would have to be some regulations. A separate entrance, a proper bedroom, a bathroom, a place to properly prepare food, and utilities are all essential. Parking for an additional vehicle would be required as well. But, these are things that are the same that are required for any dwelling.

I know that if it had not been for my good fortune in having that apartment back during a time when I needed it most, things may be entirely different for me today.

It's just time to rewrite the bylaws, and I hope those in the position will do so, and not let their personal feelings get in the way of what is only right.


  1. Your forgetting the part of the by-law that allows the home owner to live in the "apartment" and rent the house. That is no longer an "in-law" apartment. It is a house for rent, income propery, 2 famliy home, I don't know what you would call it but not an "in-law" apartment.

  2. No difference. If the owner still lives on the property, what difference does it make? If a person no longer has a need for a 4 bedroom place, but the single bedroom apartment would fit the bill , then why not rent the rest of the house to someone that needs more space? 6 of one, half dozen of the other. So, the owner takes over the in-law apartment, and rents out the rest of the house...What's your point? Is this going to cause a problem here in town?

  3. It defeats the purpose of an “in-law” apartment. To provide housing to a family member usually an older adult. A way of taking care of an elderly parent while keeping them close and also providing them their own space. It is not a for profit real estate venture. This new by-law makes every home in town a potential rental property changing the dynamic of every neighborhood.

  4. Why not "for profit"? If a homeowner has extra space, why not rent out that space to augment their income? What harm will it do? For older residents it may be just the thing that allows them to stay in their home that much longer. The term "in-law" apartment is a misnomer. "Accessory Dwelling Unit" is the correct term, and there is no restriction to the age of the renter. If I had space with its own entrance, bedroom, bath, and kitchen area I may like to rent it out if there was a need. And, if it changes the "dynamics" of every neighborhood in town, so what? Would that be harmful? Would Sadie renting out an unused space in her home adversely affect the neighborhood? Maybe, if she rented out a single room to 12 people with 6 cars, it would not be the best thing, but other than that, where's the harm?

    Denying people to rent out the space they have, or wish to make, is elitist. Times are tough, and people are going to look to ways to add to their dwindling income. Sure beats riding down to Foxwoods and hoping to it it big at Bingo, or knocking over a 7-11.

  5. helping inlaws is only one way the place can be used. why are people fixated on in-laws. the name is old school, and comes from a time when a little apartment attached to the house could be used for the in laws, or others, too. i think we should allow town resident sto do what they can as long as the space they want to use is ok to use.

  6. Won’t Sturbridge have to change its zoning laws if every single family zone can have homes that are no longer single family?

  7. Would there really be that many to cause a concern?

  8. Think the correct term is accessory dwelling unit; if its an "inlaw" how do you keep control of that, are you suggesting documents to prove you're related. You also assume that "inlaw" is elderly, how about an 18 year old brother-in-law. Don't enact a bylaw that you can't enforce. The other thing that isn't mentioned, you need a special permit before you can build, it can only be a percentage of what is already there. Do you really think that so many homeowners are going to rush out and try to build? Do you really think that so many have the lot size to build such a dwelling, if they don't then they would need a variance, very difficult to get, really tough criteria.
    What are most afraid of, that people "from away" are going to be moving into Sturbridge?
    Read the whole bylaw before you decide.

  9. "in-law apartment" is a word commonly used like "Kleenex" for any kind of facial tissue. It does not mean the accessory dwellings are only for in-laws. It was just a name used at one time to describe little apartments in a home. If a 19 year old wants to rent one, why not? If a home owner wants to rent it to a 19 year old, why not? Everyone in town is not going to rush out and get "For Rent" signs. Few homes have the set-up, and others would not spend the $$ to make a space if their goal was to make a only few hundred bucks a month. This is not a get rich quick scheme. It is only one way people can add to their monthly income, put some unused space to good use, and like the writer of the blog said, offer an alternative to people needing affordable shelter.


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