Board Wrestles with Setback Amendment

There was one thing on the minds of the members of the Marion Planning Board Monday night: the zoning amendment put forth by Sherman Briggs.

On September 18, the Marion Board of Selectmen allowed the last-minute addition to the Fall Special Town Meeting warrant of Briggs’ article proposing 10-foot setbacks in the Residence E zoning district.

Briggs joined the conversation as the Planning Board tried to sort out their position on the amendment.

The board had been wrestling with their role in providing relief to Briggs in his development plan for the Spring Street property. Briggs contends that, in order to develop the property with the 27 units he needs to be profitable, he needs leeway with the setback requirements for the mandatory three affordable housing units to be included in the development.

Vice Chairman Steve Kokkins summarized the board’s position, saying, “[The] general sentiment … was that in this particular case, there is no issue or problem with setback reductions…” because the development does not intrude on other property owners and abuts unoccupied land. Kokkins continued, “How do we handle changing the bylaw that may be used in a way we don’t intend?”

At issue is whether changing the setback requirements in Residence E zoning district would then apply to all future developments in the district.

Chairman Will Saltonstall supported Kokkins’ position, saying, “There’s a difference going through a process for a particular property as opposed to changing zoning for all land in this zone.”

Board member Eileen Marum pointed out that the Residence E zoning district makes up roughly 0.03% of the area of the town, so this amendment would apply to very little property, to which board member Norm Hills later added that there are no other undeveloped properties in town currently zoned Residence E.

Saltonstall suggested that a more appropriate bylaw would give the planning board the ability to give leeway on the setback requirement.

“I have grave concerns,” stated board member Chris Collings. “Town Meeting is unpredictable [on this project]. I don’t see these votes at Town Meeting as a guaranteed solution to these things…

“[There are] disconnects of the overlap of the Master Plan and zoning,” Collings further stated. “I was hoping we could come up with a way to get past these hurdles. … I think it is important that the Planning Board is more involved.”

Board member Kristen Saint Don Campbell suggested that a change in the zoning bylaw for this project made sense, saying, “We know what Sherman Briggs intends, [but] what is another developer going to do – they may not be as reputable. … The developer may not have our best interests in mind.”

If the project were to go to the ZBA, it would have to demonstrate a hardship, among other criteria, to get relief for the setback requirement. Collings suggested that the conflict between the Master Plan and zoning requirements could be considered a legitimate hardship. Saltonstall was skeptical, contending this was too liberal an interpretation of the criteria.

Kokkins then suggested a more assertive approach, proposing, “We take a proactive stance in terms of the law that we favor the setback plan that is shown … with the existing setbacks on the affordable apartments. The developer has taken steps to reduce impacts. We could approve those setbacks and let the chips fall where they may.”

Although Saltonstall thought this idea was too risky, Kokkins suggested it would be made in good faith.

Collings said, “If I was selling this idea, I’d reduce the idea to a few salient points.”

The board seemed to agree that Collings would be the best at presenting the idea to Town Meeting.

Saltonstall concluded the discussion with a recommendation, saying, “Under the Residence E zoning district, the Planning Board – as the Special Permit granting authority, has the authority to grant setback and dimensional requirements in multifamily projects. … Given this authority, we will be reviewing all parts of this project.”

Collings agreed, adding, “[The] resolution of conflicts in planning is in our wheelhouse. Getting the power into the Planning Board cleans up a pathway to get things done.”

Saltonstall will speak with the town administrator and town counsel on the viability of the idea before the public hearing on October 15.

In other business, the board discussed the proposed changes in the kennel licensing bylaw appearing on the Town Meeting warrant. Town Planner Gil Hilario informed the committee that the town administrator wanted the language defining household kennels to be removed entirely from the bylaw. Anyone with up to three dogs would be regulated simply as a pet owner. Residents with four to 10 dogs would be considered a hobby kennel, and anyone with 11 or more would be considered a commercial kennel. Kennels will be allowed in the Residential, General Business, Limited Business, and Limited Industrial zoning districts.

The board voted to endorse the bylaw.

Thenext meeting of the Marion Planning Board is scheduled for October 15 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.

Marion Planning Board

By Sarah French Storer

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