Despite vehement opposition from the Sippican Historical Society, despite objections from abutters, and despite whatever Christian Loranger may one day plan to build at 120 Front Street, one fact remains – the two-family house was a two-family house before the Town adopted a bylaw restricting two-family houses in 1954 – and the Marion Zoning Board of Appeals recognized that when it approved the perpetuity of the two-family status.
Loranger – 120 Front Street, LLC – requested a Special Permit on October 26 for the continuance of the two-family status of the house built in 1885. Records in Loranger’s possession demonstrate that it was already established as a two-family in 1950, before the bylaw was enacted, which would entitle Loranger to a grandfathered two-family status. But the board did not reach this conclusion without some debate.
The current bylaw requires that upon transfer of ownership, a Special Permit application must be filed with the ZBA. The owner must prove that the house had been legally deemed a two-family, with the continued use of a two-family without a lapse of two years.
Abutters Laura and Terrance Hartford of 114 Front Street said in a letter of objection to the Special Permit that the property had been abandoned for at least four years since Loranger purchased it in 2013. Before that, the house had been vacant since July 2010.
The Hartfords say that having a two-family house will negatively alter the character of the neighborhood.
Loranger said this was to be his family’s own home, not some development in town for future rental or purchase. He said he bought the house to provide an in-law apartment to elderly parents.
It is true, said Loranger, that the house had been empty for over two years, but only because of the time it took to acquire the surrounding property, as well as Conservation Commission approval.
“I bought it as a two-family,” Loranger said. “I would’ve liked to have been building … my new home four years ago, but it just didn’t happen.”
Loranger said, although he is seeking the Special Permit, he believes he has demonstrated that the house does not need it because the two-family status pre-dates the 1954 bylaw.
Building Commissioner Scott Shippey provided some history on the property, saying a fire in 2010 rendered the house uninhabitable, prompting ZBA Chairman Marc LeBlanc to inquire, “Does this qualify as an ‘abandonment’ when the building is not habitable?” It’s technically not habitable, so technically you cannot abandon it, LeBlanc proposed. “It’d be interesting to see what town counsel thinks about it. If you can’t live in it, how can you abandon it?”
Frank McNamee, president of the Sippican Historical Society, said the 13-member board recently voted unanimously to oppose the Special Permit, adding that the two-family was “illegal” and would be a detriment to the neighborhood.
Judith Rosbe from the historical society said, “We feel very strongly that this house in particular has destroyed the beauty of the village of Marion.
The group said it would continue to seek Town Meeting approval of a new demolition bylaw to grant the historical society time to review proposed demolitions.
Turning back to 120 Front Street, Rosbe said, “It has become a blight in the neighborhood. He hasn’t even mowed the lawn. It has become a blight in the village.” She said Loranger had promised to come into Marion and help beautify it, “But he has come into town and has made this a blight.”
The issue at hand though, said LeBlanc, is whether the house is a two-family and not about what Loranger’s design plans are for the house.
Sandria Parsons of 24 South Street said, “Based on what he’s built (at other locations in Marion) … he’s going to build a nice structure; it’s not at all going to destroy the village scene.” She continued, “We live in a lovely town, and I’m in favor of somebody being allowed to build his home and allow his (in-laws) to live in a family home.”
Loranger, visibly frustrated, said he felt he was ‘at his wits’ end,’ and vowed that his house would be constructed to not only be beautiful, but also look like any other one-family house. He said he would have liked to have mowed the grass and upkeep the property, but red municipal tape prevented it. He also added that he could go ahead on his own and build an “enormous” one-family house, “…the ugliest thing in the world if I wanted to without going before the Zoning Board of Appeals.”
LeBlanc again wondered if a house could be considered ‘abandoned’ if it was uninhabitable, but in the end, the point was moot as the board concluded that there was enough evidence that the two-family use preceded the 1954 bylaw.
“It is what it is,” ZBA member Michelle Smith said once the public hearing was closed. “If it’s prior to that bylaw, then it’s grandfathered in. It seems to me to be a shut case.”
All ZBA members agreed that the house was a two-family before 1954 when the bylaw took effect, superseding the present bylaw.
Then came the next question for the board – should they approve a Special Permit anyway, even though technically it didn’t need one due to the grandfathered status? Clearly, Loranger needed some sort of ZBA approval, but by which approach?
“How do we structure that vote?” asked LeBlanc.
Loranger requested the Special Permit, which was the premise of the application, despite its determined grandfathered two-family status. So, could the board simply just approve the Special Permit, which expires in two years, or just vote to grant approval that it is grandfathered? Or, perhaps both?
The board fashioned the motion to grant the Special Permit while acknowledging it did not require a Special Permit because it was deemed grandfathered, regardless.
LeBlanc said he would still like town counsel to answer his question on abandonment versus inhabitability for the board’s sake.
In other matters, the board approved a Special Permit for Andrew Sidford Architects to allow a vertical extension over an existing footprint at 13 West Avenue. The original application was for a Variance, which the ZBA granted, but Shippey later discovered that the application should have been for a Special Permit and not a Variance, because the project was not changing the footprint of the property; rather, the owner was seeking to expand vertically upon a pre-existing non-conforming structure. The Special Permit was approved, and the Variance was revoked.
The next meeting of the Marion Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled for November 9 at 7:30 pm at the Marion Town House.
Marion Zoning Board of Appeals
By Jean Perry