Friday, April 2, 1999
Major changes to zoning bylaw proposed; public hearing on Monday
After nearly a year of quietly collecting comments and considering codifications, the bylaw review committee has delivered to the selectmen a hefty set of revisions to the Carlisle zoning bylaw. The board of appeals has long awaited clarification of some of the provisions, such as whether non-conforming houses may be expanded more than 50 percent, while other proposals, such as whether a bank should be allowed in the town center, have only recently advanced into the limelight. All proposed revisions to the zoning bylaw require a two-thirds approval vote at the May Town Meeting.
Additions of more than 50 percent
About two years ago the board of appeals began to see an increase in the number of applications for variances to build additions which enlarged by more than 50 percent a non-conforming house (that is, a house which does not meet in all respects the dimensional requirements, such as setbacks, of the zoning bylaw). Initially, the board tended to grant these variances because, given current building standards in town, it was considered a hardship to force the owner of a small house to limit expansion of his property.
The board examined the bylaw more closely and, after extensive research and discussion, reached consensus that the bylaw which contained the 50 percent rule applied only to expansions of a non-conforming use (for example, a manufacturing business in a residential building). Expansions of a single-family house by more than 50 percent were allowed so long as the expansion did not increase the non-conformity of the house.
In the board's opinion, however, the language of the bylaw was ambiguous and difficult to interpret and should be reworded. At a minimum, the board sought some guidance from the town on the desired interpretation. Accordingly, the selectmen have placed two options on the Warrant to determine the direction in which the town would like to go on this matter. The first would make it clear that no non-conforming structure can be expanded by more than 50 percent. The second option would allow non-conforming single-family houses to be expanded more than 50 percent so long as the expansion does not increase the non-conformity of the structure.
Under a proposed bylaw, the board of appeals may authorize a bank or monetary institution to operate by special permit in a general residence A district. The special permit may not exceed five years from the date of issuance but may be renewed. The board must find that there will be no significant impact with respect to traffic, noise, air quality or exterior lighting caused by the use. Moreover, the exterior appearance of the building must be congruent with the neighborhood, there must be no outside display of goods, products, storage of materials or equipment and provision must be made for adequate off-street parking which is screened from the street and the surrounding neighborhood.
Adoption of this bylaw would allow the application of North Middlesex Savings Bank to operate a bank at the old Saint Irene Church site on Bedford Road, which is in a general residence A district. Bank vice-president Tony O'Neill has appeared before the selectmen on a number of occasions to urge the adoption of the bylaw without the five-year limitation on the special permit, arguing that the time period is too short to justify the bank's intended million-dollar investment in the property. Selectmen were wary of giving carte blanche in a residential area to a business having no track record in town.
O'Neill assured officials that the bank would be a good neighbor and is willing to work with the town on concerns such as design or traffic. Selectman Michael Fitzgerald concluded that these arguments must be made at the May Town Meeting, stating, "Voters will have the final say on whether they want to change the character of the center of town."
Doctors, day laborers and day care centers
A few proposed changes grew out of citizen concerns and the building inspector's complaints about enforceability of the current bylaw. In the former category, the bylaw review committee has suggested that the office of a physician or dentist should no longer be allowed as of right in a residential district but instead be allowed by special permit. These offices would be allowed if the applicant could show that there would be no significant increase in vehicle traffic and noise, that adequate parking was provided and that other conditions meant to safeguard the residential character of the neighborhood were met.
In the category of bylaw provisions which the building inspector finds hard to enforce is the allowance in certain cases of more than one dwelling on one lot. The current bylaw permits a "private family guest house" and a "dwelling unit for temporary occupancy by persons employed by the immediate family." In light of the lack of a definition of "guest" or "temporary" the bylaw review committee has eliminated both provisions to prevent abuse in the future. The committee also felt that the original purpose of housing farm workers is no longer a need and that the current accessory apartment bylaw establishes the rules for a second dwelling unit.
The bylaw review committee neglected to propose any solution to the problem faced by the board of appeals with respect to day care centers. State law prohibits any locality from regulating day care centers but the town's zoning bylaw still requires these facilities to obtain a special permit. Board of appeals chair Midge Eliassen has been requesting that this inconsistency be remedied. According to town administrator David DeManche, however, the public hearing requirement to this change cannot be met so an article correcting the problem will not be on the warrant.
The planning board is required to hold a public hearing on the proposed bylaw changes. According to planning board member Michael Epstein, a public hearing is scheduled for April 12 to discuss these changes as well as the proposed open space neighborhood bylaw changes being forwarded by the planning board.
Phyllis Zinicola is the Mosquito reporter covering the board of selectmen. She is also a member of the board of appeals.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito