The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 15, 2006


40B threatened for "unbuildable" lot

Developer Bill Costello and engineer Bill McNary of Stamsky and McNary probably knew that their request for a variance from zoning bylaws had little chance for approval at the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) September 7 meeting. Their plans for a single family house on South Street required three variances in order to gain approval. These were not minor variances. Access to the lot is via a 20-foot-wide strip that extends 270 feet to the building lot. Even if it had been the required 40-foot-width for a pork chop lot, the parcel contains only 2.65 acres, almost one and one-half acres shy of the zoning requirement.

Chair Ed Rolfe went directly to the point, saying to Costello, "You purchased it knowing it was not buildable. You need 230 feet more frontage." Why then would two knowledgeable and experienced members of the construction community even bother to request such variances, especially given the history in Carlisle of rarely granting such a waiver? "This could be a 40B project," replied McNary, "but the neighbors may prefer a single family home."

A typical 40B project might need one-half acre per unit, or in this case, four units with one (25%) being affordable. Projects built under the auspices of the state's 40B statute may bypass town zoning requirements, including those requiring 250-foot frontage and two acres or, in the case of a pork chop lot, 40-foot frontage and four acres. This is why seemingly unbuildable lots are now finding renewed interest among developers. "Give me what I want or I'll put a 40B in there," is how Rolfe described the current scenario.

Member Steve Hinton could recall only one instance where a frontage violation gained approval from the ZBA, and that was under mitigating circumstances where a small 20-foot-by- 20-foot patch of land somehow got assigned to the adjoining property. "We can't flagrantly throw these numbers out the window," Chair Rolfe stressed to the board members.

Since this lot came into being in 1948, member Shann Kerner wondered whether it might be exempted from two acre zoning, which began in 1956. This prompted a long introspective discussion among the board members regarding sunset provisions and grandfathering. They finally decided that time had long since run out for bypassing the modern zoning regulations, and besides, if any legal way to circumvent the laws existed, Costello and McNary would know about it.

Planning Board member David Freedman emphasized to the board that our zoning bylaws are adopted by the town. "Variances should be a rarity, otherwise something is wrong with the bylaws." Catherine Shepard of South Street, whose house is on the adjoining lot, raised the issue of wetland violations, but was assured by Costello that delineations were recently performed and there was adequate room for a building site without violating the buffer zone.

In the end, there was no wiggle room for the board. As Rolfe previously mentioned, Costello purchased the land knowing it was unbuildable. The ZBA cannot consider the threat of 40B as a reason to grant a variance. Therefore a motion to deny the request for a variance without prejudice was passed by a vote of 3-0.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito