SALEM — A joint hearing of the City Council and Planning Board on the issue of in-law apartments has been continued until Thursday, Aug. 15.

The hearing, called to discuss Mayor Kim Driscoll's proposal to loosen restrictions on what are known as accessory dwelling units, lasted for three and half hours before officials decided to continue it next month.

The changes are designed to spur creation of more such units, as a way to address a housing shortage that is contributing to increasing prices for homes and apartments in the city. Among other things, the new rules would allow in-law apartment to be rented to people who are not relatives and would permit them in all the city's residential zones.

Before the Salem News deadline Monday night, most of the speakers at the hearing indicated support for the changes. Later in the evening, some expressed concerns about the proposal.

Fawaz Abusharkh, a resident of Harrison Road, said he thinks accessory apartments are a step in the right direction, but that the new regulations may need some tweaks. He said he is concerned about allowing the apartments to be created by right, without a special permit, as long as they meet the new regulations. 

For example, he said, the owner of a two-family building might add an in-law apartment, move into it, and then convert the other two apartments to short-term rentals.

"When you do things by right, people find a way to abuse those rights," Abusharkh said. 

Cedar Street resident Polly Wilbert, who rents a one-bedroom apartment, also said a special permit should be required, to let neighbors know of the potential impact on the neighborhood.

"The conditions of living in a dense neighborhood should not be downgraded or diminished," Wilbert said.

She also said the owner-occupancy requirement under the new rules should be longer than two years, in order to reduce speculation and help to ensure the apartments are affordable.

The council has kept the hearing open, so there is still a chance for residents to weigh in, according to the city's senior planner, Amanda Chiancola. If the council closes the public hearings next month, the Planning Board would have 21 days to develop its recommendation for the council. The council may not vote on the issue until sometime in the fall.

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