A resident wanting to build a large farm structure on his property got approval from the Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals on February 28, but first he had to come up with a reasonable “hardship,” one of the three requirements for a variance.
Another thing the applicant needed was a “super majority” ZBA vote – meaning that the vote must be at least 4-1 to pass. But with only four board members present that evening, ZBA Chairman David Arancio gave Steven Sol of 108 Burgess Avenue the option to continue the public hearing because with only four members, Arancio pointed out, Sol needed a unanimous 3-0 for the variance.
“Let’s go!” Sol replied.
Sol needed a variance because the large farm structure he wants to build is planned within 78 feet on the abutting property line, but the bylaw requires a 100-foot setback. Furthermore, Sol wants to build it in his “front yard,” but, as he described it, the rear of his house actually faces the road and the front of the house faces old cranberry bogs.
As for the setback, Sol owns that abutting property, and several others nearby. He also plans to shift the lot line in the future to add additional acreage to the 108 Burgess Avenue, which would eventually render the 100-foot setback variance moot. But that was later, not now.
Sol argued that, since his main house and surrounding accessory buildings are about three-tenths of a mile from the road and not visible to the public, building the farm structure where he planned wouldn’t affect the neighborhood.
“You can’t see nothing from the street,” said Sol.
A couple of abutters wanted to know more information about the plan, but they soon discovered that they were mistaken over which house Sol owned. One other abutter attended simply to show support for the project.
Arancio emphasized Sol’s need to satisfy the three variance circumstances – the hardship, conditions of the land that may limit the placement of the building, and not having a detrimental impact on the neighborhood. He asked Sol why he couldn’t build the building 101 feet from the lot line instead of 78, and Sol said it was because he still wanted to have access to drive through the two buildings “and keep them in line looking nice.”
“I’m having a hard time looking at how the hardship is created with that,” said Arancio.
“[It] makes more sense to do it the way I want to do it,” Sol said.
Arancio said the board has been careful to ensure all applicants were given information on the three conditions that must be met for a variance.
“Whether they own 80 acres or eight,” Arancio said, the board must be “fair to every applicant who comes before the ZBA.”
The board seemed to want to help Sol find his hardship of sorts with ZBA member Kirby Gilmore asking Sol, “Any wetlands?” Sol said there weren’t any, and the conservation agent had already signed off on an old dry “upland” bog that is not considered wetlands.
“You’re saying it’s all uplands?” Gilmore asked, seeming helpful. He continued, “If he put it somewhere else, it wouldn’t work for him. He has a farm to operate – that’s probably where I would put it.”
“I think that I a hundred-percent agree that you’re in the culture of the town and the spirit of the town and it is to be embraced,” Arancio said, “but the rules still apply to anyone that’s been in the town for a month or a hundred years, and this is the process he knew when he applied…
“The three criteria have to be met. If someone appeals … the decision, we have to be able to prove that he’s met the criteria for a variance. It’s a process: it’s not personal,” said Arancio.
“It’s a hardship to me,” said Sol. “I like it better where I want to put it.”
But ‘hardship’ is only one of the three conditions, Arancio reminded Sol. Still, Arancio acknowledged that only two of the 58 abutters notified attended the meeting, which demonstrates that not many view the proposal as a detriment to the neighborhood. Arancio then turned his attention to the existing farm structures on the land, the underground utilities, and the driveway location.
“To move the building, you’re going to have a hardship [because] you’ve got to relocate the driveway?” Arancio asked.
“And shape of the lot … kind of jogs out,” Gilmore added. “And that old cranberry bog … is still land and agriculture and if he … disturbs that land he may not be able to bring that land back into a cranberry bog.
“That aids in satisfying the first criteria,” said Gilmore. “I was trying to get him to say that earlier.”
“It does make sense to place the proposed building where it is and moving it away from those (utilities and limiting access between buildings),” said ZBA member Davis Sullivan, “I think that would justify the hardship.”
“I don’t have any problems with this,” concluded Gilmore. “I think that there is some unique characteristics that Mr. Sol is not able to express regarding the first condition … but I am satisfied personally that that condition is met.”
The variance was approved, with a special condition that the new structure be used for agricultural purposes only.
The next meeting of the Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled for March 14 at 7:00 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.
Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals
By Jean Perry