The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 13, 2001


Board of appeals considers family size a 'hardship'

Trends happen case by case, and sometimes remarkable changes slide in almost unnoticed if you aren't paying attention. At their April 13 meeting the board of appeals granted a variance to enlarge a house because they considered it smaller than needed by the family living there. Variances such as this have become more a rule rather than an exception.

Expanding a small house

Kim and Tom Ratcliffe of 14 Concord Street presented an application to expand their 1,612-square-foot dwelling by another 790 square feet. The Ratcliffes live in a three-bedroom antique dwelling with their three children. Local residents have nicknamed the house, built in 1846, "Priscilla Cottage" due to a doorway portal bearing that name, which actually was transported from another location. The property is of historic interest to the town as it once also housed a blacksmith shop.

The Ratcliffe home is situated on the small island between Concord, Westford and Church streets. The non-conforming lot spans only one-third of an acre and the house sits only 11 feet from the street, instead of the 20 feet currently required by town zoning in Residence District A. Placing the addition behind the house to meet the Concord Street frontage requirements would impact frontage on Westford Street. It is interesting to note that the blacksmith shop was sited even closer to Concord Street than the proposed addition.

The board of appeals granted the variance requested in the case, finding that "the current living area and bedrooms are smaller than needed for a family of five and the addition will help relieve that hardship."

"The board has chosen to look at very small houses as substandard by today's Carlisle living standards," said member and former chair Midge Eliassen. The case is not a precedent and Eliassen referred to similar variances granted to families of older dwellings in the center of town, on Curve Street and on Lowell Road.

"Should we put on a homeowner Carlisle's own problems of insufficient moderate income housing?" rhetorically asked board member Hal Sauer, who also served on the Carlisle Housing Authority, a position he recently vacated. The board, he said, has granted variances for additions to improve living conditions for families "if a neighbor is not aggrieved." He confessed to much greater personal anguish when a small old home is completely razed to enable construction of a huge modern dwelling.

The Ratcliffe house currently appears like a sideways "L", with the one floor expanding to two stories at one end. The Ratcliffes will create a mirror addition of two stories at the other end to increase the size of the downstairs living area and expand the master bedroom. They plan to add another upstairs bedroom but hold the bedroom count the same by removing the walls to a small bedroom on the first floor and increasing the size of the common area.


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