Long in development, having gone through a winding path of revisions and amendments, an ordinance to permit accessory dwelling units is nearing a final vote by the Montclair Township Council and is likely to be approved before long.

It is a concept springing up around the country. The units, known as ADUs, allow homeowners to create another living space on their property, either attached or as a separate smaller structure. In Montclair and elsewhere it is regarded as a creative housing alternative for seniors seeking to downsize or supplement a fixed income, young adults who may want to return to their families while carving out independence, and for a range of town employees who want to avoid a commute but have been otherwise priced out.

Ann Lippel, president of Montclair Gateway to Aging in Place, has championed the cause. She and others see the measure in more than pragmatic terms, but also as a way to help older residents remain in Montclair and to keep the town’s generational saga going.

“ADUs preserve a way of life,” Lippel said. “People can stay in their own homes, maintain their house of worship and keep their community – how it should be.”

Likewise, Third Ward Councilor Lori Price Abrams, who spearheaded the effort on the council along with Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis, sees the advent of the units in grand terms, saying that it is a way to maintain tradition and diversity.

“This represents why I ran for council,” she said. “It allows for an organic and slow growth of housing stock while allowing people of different means to be part of this community.”

The ordinance says that a unit cannot be smaller than 300 square feet or larger than 800 square feet. The space can be expanded to 1,200 square feet if the dwelling requires add-ons to make it more accessible, such as hand rails and larger bathrooms. To discourage short-term rentals, occupants must live in the units for a minimum of six months. Among other provisions, no more than three people can live in a unit at any one time.

Among changes made to the ordinance along the way, a single ADU can be added to owner-occupied two- or three-family homes. A three-family home that adds an ADU would then be subject to rent control. In October, the Township Council approved a first reading of the amended ordinance and sent it on to the Planning Board for its feedback.

Last month the board raised its own questions in pondering the matter. What if a family of three moved in but then had another child? Could they or should they be forced out? Should family members be required to sign a lease? A suggestion was made that the town place a limit on the overall number of ADUs in Montclair and then determine later if more are needed.

With the Township Council having approved the original version of the ordinance unanimously, it is expected that once it considers the Planning Board's input, the proposal will pass after more massaging and modifications.

The units have become prevalent in several states, including Washington, Minnesota and California. In New Jersey, both Princeton and Maplewood have enacted measures allowing ADUs. As of about a year ago, Princeton had 18 while Maplewood had two.

Lippel was part of a task force that has worked with the council on crafting an ordinance. She said that the idea is taking hold across the country “because it is a good solution to address friendlier housing options. It won’t impact the streetscape and there’s no infrastructure costs for the town.”

Yacobellis views ADUs as a "missing middle piece" in a housing market that often presents few options.

"It's not just for people who want to downsize and age in place," he said. "It's for young people trying to start a family in the town that they grew up in. You can also have nannies and health-care aides living in accessory dwelling units."

Price Abrams said that as housing prices have gone up, it has become more difficult for many to stay in Montclair, threatening to compromise the town's self-identity.

“Montclair’s diversity is not just socioeconomic,” she said. “It’s artists who have contributed to the fabric of this community, restaurant workers, theater companies, all the things that enrich Montclair. This is one more tool that embraces housing that is affordable. And this is more than about race. It’s a way to keep the soul of Montclair.”