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|Written by Gillian Smith|
|Wednesday, 30 October 2013 11:33|
The Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals held a joint meeting Monday night to discuss variances between the respective boards’ perceptions of the zoning bylaws and decision making processes.
The Planning Board invited the ZBA to their meeting Monday and left the agenda open to discuss various items. Planning Board chairman George Wadsworth said the intention of the board was not to pick apart each ZBA decision, but to better understand the decision making process of the ZBA with respect to the recommendations of the planning board.
“There’s a natural conflict between the Planning Board and the Board of Appeals and we want to see where it is and why its there and see if we can reduce it somewhat,” he said.
When asked by Wayne Dennison, ZBA vice chair, to clarify what he meant by “natural conflict,” Wadsworth said a number of the recommendations from the Planning Board appear to not have been discussed and the decisions often do not reflect the recommendation of the board.
“We don’t want to direct the Board of Appeals, but we want to understand why you guys are ending up in a differ- ent place than we are,” Wadsworth said. “It seems to be failing the system.”
Dennison said he preferred to talk about the issue on a global scale, as opposed to on an individual-case basis, and said he believed the Planning Board has had a different interpretation of Massachusetts’ laws pertaining to razing a non-conforming structure and reconstructing a non-conforming structure in its place.
“Frankly, your last recommendations have been different than your first few in that regard and we had no way to understand the difference between your views,” Dennison said. “Given our experience in the area, we didn’t agree as a general proposition that you can’t rip down an existing non-conforming structure and put up a new one that is non-conforming but less intrusive.”
Planning Board vice chair Brian Glennon said because zoning articles at Town Meeting garner a lot of debate, when a vote is finally made and a bylaw approved, the beauty is that existing dwellings do not have to conform to the new law.
“At some point in time, at least in theory, the master plan is for all properties to conform to whatever the zoning is at that time,” Glennon said. “I realize the bylaw is always changing so things will always be out of compliance. But if we allow the construction of another non-conforming structure, its in variance with the bylaw.”
Glennon said he realizes the Planning Board and ZBA have differing views on pre-existing non-conforming structures and the major difference is the interpretation of the definition of “substantial."
Dennison said the view of the ZBA is that you can raze a non-conforming structure and reconstruct a new non-conf orming structure as long as it does not “expand the scope of the non-conformity.”
Planning Board member John Bear said the important thing is to point out the two very different roles the boards have.
“Planning has the luxury of hopefully proposing and getting some legislation down and by definition you guys are in the job of giving exemptions,” he said. “We don’t have to carry that burden so there is a built-in conflict.”
The two boards also discussed accessory structures and the risks involved with having structures that do not conform to the setbacks increase the risk of fires traveling between buildings.
Dennison said the issue mostly concerns figuring out what additions or changes may be made to structures that are already non-conforming.
“I don’t think there has ever been any wholesale efforts by the ZBA to say, ‘Well town meeting said the setback is 15 feet but we think it should be 12,’” he said. “We don’t write variances like that.”
Dennison said a number of cases are continued to fur- ther meetings with the ZBA as they work through issues and focus on working with the bylaws. Wadsworth said the Planning Board will take the position of trying to protect the bylaws.
“We are going to take the position that we are going to enforce the bylaw as written as interpreted by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts,” Dennison said.
Wadsworth said his main concern was that because the Planning Board is not part of the negotiations and discussions for each case that comes before the ZBA, what he would like to see is when the ZBA takes the Planning Board’s recommendation it comes out in the decision.
“Usually we just see a note that says ‘Planning Board recommends denial or this or that, and is silent beyond that,” Wadsworth said. “This would make it a bit clearer for us.”
Glennon asked the ZBA if there was anything the Planning Board could do when writing recommendations to help the ZBA better interpret their recommendations.
Scott Zoltowski, ZBA chair, said the Planning Board recommendations are gener- ally thoughtfully and clearly set out and no improvements immediately came to mind.
“As part of this discussion you made a point that you’d like to see the recommendation reflected in the decision and we can take that and see how we can best do that,” Zoltowski said.