Making Democracy Work

Zoning Board of Appeals

Richard Johnson Observer Submitted 2018

The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) is appointed by the Selectmen to rule on appeals from the Planning Board or Building Commissioner, variances from the Zoning Code and special permits. There are five full members and two Associate members, each appointed for a five year term; there is a full time Zoning Administrator. The Board typically meets on the first and third Thursday of the month; meetings are public and agendas must be published 48 hours or more in advance on the Town website. eard since my last report were special permits related to pre-existing non- conforming lots; lots and buildings existing prior to the adoption or modification of the Zoning Bylaws. These were for modifications to structures, additions, raze and re-construct, etc. in cases where the lot size, lot coverage by structures, or setbacks do not comply with current bylaws. In these cases, the Board's expressed goal it to make sure the requested changes do not make the structure less compliant and do not adversely affect the neighbors. Abutters' expressed concerns or support are taken under consideration before a decision is reached. The Board often requests changes to the design to meet these goals, and applications are typically approved with conditions.

Other special permit hearings related to swimming pools, changes in support of home-based occupations (storage buildings, office space, etc.), modifications of previously approved special permits (driveways, permitted use, change of use), and accessory apartments. The latter type has been least clear, as the by-law is open to interpretation and is actively being re-written for adoption at Town Meeting. The current bylaw requires that the principal dwelling be owner-occupied (difficult to document) and there have been conflicts with watershed protection zones. Again, the applications are typically approved with conditions.

Appeals of decisions by the Building Commissioner have been few but controversial, and mostly concerned with noise. One involved fire-wood splitting as a permitted accessory use, and another had to do with perceived changes in use at a trap and gun club. The Board had numerous hearings with public testimony before deciding these applications.

The ZBA is the principal authority of Comprehensive Permits for 40B developments intended to provide affordable housing. These have proven very controversial in several cases and have involved extensive testimony from the public. The ZBA's strategy in these cases has been to work with the applicant to address concerns by the board and public and modify the project to a form that can be approved. In one case the applicant was not agreeable to requested changes, and the ZBA approved the project laden with conditions which would make it more compliant with the Zoning Code, local character and abutters' concerns. That decision is being challenged by the abutters and applicant. A decision from the Massachusetts Housing Appeals Committee (HAC) is expected soon; if they overturn the ZBA decision, the applicant can apparently build the project with no further review. If they uphold the ZBA decision, the applicant may modify the project according to the Conditions and submit it for review and approval. It is unclear how the abutters' suits would be affected by the HAC's decision.

The Board members include two attorneys, a scientist, a building commissioner in another town (resident in Falmouth), an engineer, and associate members a realtor and a former town official. They are well versed with the Zoning Bylaw and Open Meeting law, as is the Administrator Sari Budrow, upon whom the Board relies. There were 121 Applications in 2017, 32 so far in 2018.