Friday, May 3, 2013

Annual Town Meeting- Article #26

Below is Article #26 that is printed in the warrant for the Annual Town Meeting:

Article 26: To see if the Town will vote to amend the Zoning Bylaw of the Town regarding dimensional requirements and fencing applicable to corner lots, or take any other action relative thereto.

I knew that this warrant article was related to a revision of the zoning bylaw governing "corner lots" but given this limited text I wanted to know more.  At a boisterous Special Town Meeting last October, Planning Board Chair, Walter Gunn promised to have a revised zoning bylaw on the warrant at the next Annual Town Meeting which is scheduled for next Tuesday. (See earlier Buzz post- What's Happening with Corner Lots? for background information.)

It turns out that the specific bylaw changes were not completed when the warrant was published and not finalized until earlier this week.  Below is the lengthy amendment that will be proposed on the floor of the Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday for consideration by voters ...

Move: To amend the zoning by-laws of the Town as follows:
  1. Add a definition of “Front Lot Line” in Article II as follows:
    “Front Lot Line.” The front lot line for each lot shall be the street line opposite the rear lot line.
  2. Add a definition of “Side Lot Line” in Article II as follows:
    “Side Lot Line.” Each lot line that is neither a front nor a rear lot line.
  3. Amend the definition of “Rear Lot Line” in Article II as follows:
    “Rear Lot Line.” A rear lot line is a lot line opposite to the street line. In case of a corner or through lot, the owner may designate which line will be the rear lot line, provided his choice does not involve a violation of any of the provisions of this By-law. In the case of a corner lot where the side lot lines are curved or angled or joined by a tertiary line or curve, the BuildingCommissioner shall designate the extent of the rear lot line.  
click here to read full three page amendment 

In order to find out more about this controversial subject I attended a Planning Board public hearing on May 1 regarding the proposed bylaw changes.  This public hearing was held in order to solicit public comments and was required by Mass. General Law.  Only 7 members of the public attended this meeting.

At this meeting a schematic diagram explaining the proposed changes was handed out and which is shown below:
click diagram to enlarge
The above chart will be presented at the Annual Town Meeting.  Below are some additional comments that were made during the public hearing.
  1. There are approximately 800 corner lots in the town of Longmeadow of which 600 are designated "non-conforming".  In most cases non-conforming lots mean that they do not meet the 40 ft setback from the Street Line or Property Line or Front Lot Line.  Location of any new fences (or substantial modification of an existing fence) must be at least 40 feet from the Street Line

    It was interesting that no member of the Planning Board or Zoning Board of Appeals (who were present) could adequately define what is meant by substantial fence modification which would require a building permit and adherence to the new bylaw no matter when it was originally built.
  2. The new bylaw language allows for home owners to define which "street facing side" of their house is to be considered for the Front Lot line which will determine their Rear Yard (see above diagram for details).
  3. In many cases that were described at the October STM, this new change in the fencing bylaw will not provide significant relief unless it is at least 40 ft from the Street Line.
  4. According to Walter Gunn, PB Chairman, the Longmeadow Building Commissioner/ Inspector (Paul Healey) has reviewed the above diagram and has agreed that it conforms to the language of the proposed bylaw.
This set of zoning bylaw changes will require a 2/3 vote of the Town Meeting. These proposed changes will likely be discussed at a late hour of the Town Meeting.

I believe that this zoning bylaw change should be approved to help provide relief to town residents who are currently facing severe restrictions on the use of their property.