Public Hearings Aplenty

Residents packed the Town House for three public hearings that came before the Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday, with some confusion over one leading to a bit of controversy.

Stephen and Betsy Downes thought they were applying for a variance on their house on Marion Road, which they hope to build onto in order to accommodate an aging family member. Adding a kitchen and other features to an additional space would require a change in zoning designation from single-family to two-family, and the land does not meet the minimum frontage requirement of 300 feet – falling upward of 45 feet short – to allow such a change. Thus, the variance request.

But language in the public notice of the ad listed the hearing as a request for a special permit, which legally bound the board to consider a special permit only.

The catch was that a special permit – which the Downes would ultimately need for the changes they plan – would have to come after a variance, and a variance could not be considered because of the notice language.

“We cannot consider the special permit until we would grant the variance,” ZBA member Ben Gilmore said. “And we’re not empowered or allowed to proceed on a plan that does not meet the minimum requirements.”

The snag was a confounding one for the Downes.

“We’re planning for the future,” Stephen said. “It’s to be a home for three generations.”

Abutters came out in force to protest the Downes’ plans, expressing concerns about what the zoning change could mean for the area.

“The two-family thing triggers a lot of issues,” one resident said. “What sort of precedent does that set for the neighborhood?”

Elsewhere on the agenda, the ZBA approved two variance requests: one for Erik Morad, who seeks to construct an accessory structure on his land at 552 Snipatuit road to serve as storage while he considers building a new home there. The variance for Morad comes with two conditions: that he must construct the home within five years, and that upon conversion, the structure be razed.

“It doesn’t tie him to convert,” said other ZBA Gilmore brother, Kirby, “but if he’s going to, he has to do it within five years.”

The other approval issued a variance from setback requirements for Peter Falconeiri’s property at 373 Walnut Plain Road.

By Shawn Badgley

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