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Housing plan offers flexibility

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The Watertown Planning Board has advanced a solution to the controversy over who can and who cannot live in certain homes to the City Council, which started the worldwide contretemps by its ill-conceived actions last winter when it tried to satisfy a neighbor who disapproved of who lived next door.

The solution is neat. The language recommended by city planner Kenneth A. Mix and city attorney Robert J. Slye, and adopted unanimously by the Planning Board, comes from the zoning ordinance of 1922. This defined a family as “any number of individuals living and cooking together on the premises as a single housekeeping unit.”

Now it is the council’s turn to listen to its staff and its Planning Board by adopting the new language. There should be a certain measure of confidence in accepting a definition that has stood a test of 92 years in Watertown — nine decades that have certainly witnessed the evolution of societal change, cohabitation instead of marriage, friends living with friends to reduce living costs in a city with rapidly escalating rental rates, and children returning home to live with parents, aunts, uncles or grandparents as a short-term solution to economic stress. The new law prohibits boarding houses in Residential A districts and is silent about transient roomers. Accepting the proposed changes will make clear that the council does not intend to legislate morality or societal change.

The Planning Board’s recommendation may still come up against Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham’s own proposals, which are murky at best. Such an argument only prolongs an issue that should end immediately.

Mr. Slye’s recommendation is appropriate, thoughtful and flexible. It protects Residential A zones from commercial exploitation and allows families to ebb and flow to make the best use of their houses to satisfy the living needs of family members, partners and acquaintances.

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