When it comes to zoning bylaws, what's a family? Does it matter?

68 scarborough
Screen capture Google Street View

The house at 68 Scarborough Street in Hartford, Connecticut is a nice big pile, nine bedrooms, six bathrooms, 6,000 square feet, built in 1928 and sitting on two acres. It was the perfect size for a group of friends to get together and buy so they could live together as one big family. According to the Hartford Courant,

They take turns cooking dinner, have pooled money into one bank account and entertained themselves last week with a family talent show because, [co-owner Julia] Rosenblatt said Thursday, "we intentionally came together as a family."

It is a great way to put big drafty real estate to better use, to help each other out, to reduce the burden of running a home on one's own. And of course, the neighbors are appalled. They say it violates the single family zoning and in the area and could "chip away at the quiet character of the affluent, estate-lined street." they compare it to a rooming house or a frat house, and you can't have those. But Rosenblat says it's not the same.

"We're not trying to change the zoning law," she said. "We're trying to change the definition of a family."

In an editorial, the Courant agrees, asking:

The world has changed since the Ozzie and Harriet era when baby boomers were young. The birthrate is at an all-time low, The New York Times reported last year. There are fewer marriages and fewer women becoming mothers, and more nontraditional families. Zoning cannot live in the past if it is to be effective. And as a practical matter, with smaller families now the norm, what's going to happen to these very big houses in Hartford and almost everywhere else if creative ways aren't found to use them?

As the baby boomers retire, there are going to be a lot of people considering this kind of Golden Girls option, people living together to share expenses, give each other support and not be bored. At the other end of the demographic spectrum, there are a lot of young people who would also find it easier to get into the housing market and even raise children if they lived cooperatively and helped each other out.

It's also really green and sustainable; sharing means less waste, probably fewer cars and certainly a smaller carbon footprint per person. There are very good reasons why this kind of living should be promoted, not challenged. The housing market has changed and the family has changed; time for all our zoning codes to adapt.

When it comes to zoning bylaws, what's a family? Does it matter?
Big old houses don't make a lot of sense for small families; why not share?

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