Making Democracy Work

Zoning Board of Appeals

Richard Johnson Observer Submitted 2019

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.

The great majority of cases heard since my last report were special permits related to pre-existing non-conforming lots; lots and buildings existing prior to the adoption (1979) or modification of the Zoning Bylaws (periodic). 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 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.

Two applications for 40B developments were heard and approved with modifications: Helmis Circle and Barrows Road. The first in particular attracted much public interest as it is in a fairly densely built area on the Little Pond Sewer; a common concern was the very light cost of sewer connection for these non-conforming dwellings compared to adjacent conforming single homes. A third 40B project on Locustfield Road is likely to be approved next month. The ZBA's strategy in these 40B cases is to negotiate the most improvement possible with the developer and then, if needed, condition their approval with further changes. Sometimes the developer appeals to the Housing Appeals Committee at the State level that these conditions overstep the ZBA's authority or make the project economically unviable. Such as appeal of the Lyberty Green 40B approval on Main Street is still pending. Abutters may sue the ZBA or Developer to overturn the decision, but must prove that they are significantly harmed by the project in order to prevail.

The Board members in 2019 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. Late in 2018, two full members resigned due to residence or employment relocations out of Falmouth (Kim Bielan Attny and Paul Murphy Building Commissioner), and the board was down to three full and two associate members for a few months. A vote requires a supermajority (four votes) and the presence of a quorum (four members); one public hearing was cancelled and rescheduled in December because of the lack of a quorum. In the case where only four members are present, applicants are given the option to continue the hearing to a future date as a positive vote would need to be unanimous. The two Associate members (Robert Duggan and Gerald Potamis) were appointed as full members by the Selectmen in the spring and two new Associate members were then appointed (James Morse and Mary Barry). The ZBA appears very aware of and compliant with the Open Meeting Law. Meetings are generally well run by chair TJ Hurrie and the members appear to have read the file and visited the subject properties prior to the hearings; most members are to the point in comments and questions, one tends to be garrulous.

The long-time Zoning Administrator Sari Budrow retired in November and has been replaced with Noreen Stockman, who seems to be well prepared for meetings. A new rule allows a member who misses a meeting to review the transcript and film of the meeting so that they may participate in the vote: previously, only members present for all hearings were able to vote on a specific application.