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Residents will get a chance to talk about so-called roommate law

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After causing such an uproar earlier this year, the Watertown City Council probably would like to see the saga over the controversial zoning change related to roommates finally come to an end.

It could be over Monday night.

A public hearing will be held at Monday’s City Council meeting on a proposal by Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham to resolve the issue by simply going back to the zoning ordinance’s original language with a slight variation.

The so-called roommate law first came before the council in January, after a Thompson Boulevard resident complained that her neighbor was living with his fiancée and two friends. The neighborhood is made up of single-family houses and is zoned as a Residential A district.

Council members subsequently changed the law pertaining to roomers. That caused a public relations nightmare and brought accusations that city officials were trying to regulate lifestyles and living arrangements.

To solve the issue, Mr. Graham suggested making a change to the definition of family. He has proposed keeping language that would allow “any number of individuals living together as a single housekeeping unit.” But he suggested removing the following language: “to distinguish it from a club, fraternity, or boardinghouse, not more than four members of a family shall be other than blood relatives.”

On Thursday, Mr. Graham suggested the council pass his version, so the issue finally will come to a close, he said.

“That’s what I would do,” he said, adding that it might be the politically wise thing to do for incumbent council candidates Jeffrey M. Smith and Teresa R. Macaluso.

Partly because of the issue, they are now in a six-way primary race that will be decided Sept. 10.

Mr. Graham suggested passing his proposal would get the issue behind them.

Contacted Thursday, Ms. Macaluso, who opposed the change when it came up last winter, said she plans to support the mayor’s proposal, saying what the council passed was not enforceable.

“It really didn’t mean anything, but it upset the community and it was not worth doing,” she said.

Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns, who voted for the zoning change in February, said she is “very anxious to see if the public comes out and what they think of it.”

She plans to vote against the mayor’s proposal, saying that action would not solve the original problem involving Residential A districts.

Supporters defended the change, contending the media blew the issue out of proportion. They also argued they were trying to protect Residential A districts from boarding and rooming houses.

By resolving the matter, council members then could focus on more pressing housing issues that the city faces, the mayor said.

On Monday, the council also could consider another alternative: what the city Planning Board approved earlier this month.

It deals with the definition of what makes up a family, broadening it to basically any group of people who live and cook together in a household. It also would differentiate between boarding houses and family dwellings.

Mr. Smith and Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr. could not be reached for comment.

The public hearing will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the third-floor council chambers in City Hall, 245 Washington St.

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