Bye-bye Bylaw…For Now

The Marion Planning Board has tabled its Zoning Bylaw amendment that was slated for the Annual Town Meeting warrant after several local small business owners voiced their concerns and posed questions the board was unprepared to answer. Little by little, the bylaw amendment was torn apart in the absence of its primary author, Co-chairman of the Zoning Bylaw Subcommittee Rico Ferrari.

It was a long night – over two and a half hours long – for the Marion Planning Board and those in attendance at the March 16 meeting, which included not only the zoning bylaw public hearing, but also a discussion about board member behavior followed by another of the board’s disagreements over the accuracy of meeting minutes.

The Planning Board and its bylaw subcommittee had been laboring since December over a draft bylaw amendment to regulate the size of new business structures, prompted initially by the tentative CVS project involving a 10,000 square-foot building at the corner of Front Street and Route 6.

Over time during the bylaw’s evolutionary process, it’s been whittled significantly down to the addition of another column added to the current bylaw’s dimensional use table that would restrict maximum lot coverage for new buildings and impervious surfaces, and an attempt to define ‘maximum lot coverage.’

“The kindest word would be ‘scary,’” said Steve Riley of 35 Pine Hill Road about the bylaw changes. “Scary that we could potentially affect everybody in town because we’re afraid somebody might come into town.” It is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, Riley continued, and would lead to a number of unforeseen and unintended consequences.

The maximum lot coverage column would restrict Residence A, B and E districts to 50% lot coverage, Residence C and D to 40%, Limited Business to 80% (an increase), General Business to 60%, and Marine and Limited Industrial to 70%.

As soon as Planning Board Chairman Stephen Kokkins introduced the bylaw amendment, board member Norman Hills’ face was buried into his palm, shaking his head side to side.

As Hills has maintained all along, “I don’t think that this answers the question that we’re trying to answer. I think the numbers … I don’t particularly agree with them.” He said many of town counsel’s recommendations were excluded from the document. “I don’t think I could support it.”

Board member Dr. Michael Popitz said the bylaw amendment would give the board a better leg to stand on when businesses like CVS come to Marion, he commented.

“It’s not meant to hurt anybody who wants to build their dream house … but to give some sort of limitations to what people can do (case by case),” said Popitz.

Board member Steve Gonsalves was next to question the bylaw. “I think we really need to think about this,” he said.

‘Ted’ of Ted’s Automotive at 391 Front Street worried about decreased property values with an imposed maximum lot coverage in most business zones.

Hypothetically speaking, he said, “Now with this bylaw saying I can only use 60 percent, that means somebody is going to take away 40 percent of that use. It’s gonna reduce the value of that property by 40 percent.”

Board member Robert Lane corrected him, saying that areas currently unusable because of setbacks would count as part of the 40 percent mandated green space.

“Then it’s vague,” said Ted.

Owner of Saltworks Marine Dan Crete was uneasy about the blanket statement for ‘impervious surfaces.’ He said he would like to see wording specifying, for example, gravel surfaces that are not drives for vehicles.

“My nursery is a classic example,” said Gonsalves. “By this law, my nursery is totally impervious.” He said this bylaw wouldn’t even allow him to open up a lemonade stand at the site.

Kokkins said the board should seriously consider that, and Hills said he has brought that issue up a number of times in the past.

“We need to address permeable and impermeable surfaces and how they affect stormwater requirements,” said Hills.

Crete never even knew that gravel was considered an impervious surface, he said. “I also have a concern with setting a hard number…. That’s a really difficult target to hit when you’re standing on this side of the podium.”

Resident Bill Saltonstall said the bylaw seemed unclear, especially in the absence of adequate definitions of terms such as building areas, parking lots, and structures. Gonsalves called that food for thought.

Riley urged board members to take a look at Route 6, with all the abandoned or empty lots left unoccupied.

“Let’s admit that, probably, all the easy picking lots have been taken in town…. A lot of the ones now that are left are a challenge.” He continued, “Let’s not punish every other lot on Route 6…”

Kokkins, accepting Riley’s comments, disagreed that lots would be “penalized very much,” and that the intent is “to keep the sensible use of land.”

“I think that we have some work that we can still do to change and improve what we’ve done,” said Popitz. “…The part of the purpose of doing this is also to maintain or to develop the future of Marion … into being still a beautiful town instead of making it more like Fort Lauderdale.”

Lane wanted to be clear that this bylaw, although prompted by CVS, was not aimed at CVS specifically.

“Zoning by its nature is restrictive,” said Lane. With those restrictions come both benefits and conflicts. “We have to balance that.”

Randy Parker, who said he developed the Frigate property project, said the setback requirements back then were restrictive already, and these new ones might have prevented the project from moving ahead.

“I understand you need more tools in your toolbox,” said Parker. “I don’t think fixed percentages are the way.”

Sherman Briggs, owner of an excavating business in town, said the bylaw changes would inadvertently penalize owners of smaller lots.

“I think we need to go back to the drawing board,” said board member Eileen Marum.

Lane said he was comfortable with what they were trying to achieve, but perhaps this was not the vehicle to get them there.

The deadline to submit the final draft bylaw would be March 20 – not enough time to proceed to the Annual Town Meeting warrant in May. The matter was tabled; Parker clapped.

“It’s an eye-opener,” said Gonsalves. “A lot of good intentions, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions … and it’s not pervious.”

Later, Kokkins passed out to the board what he called suggestions on how it should conduct itself. It includes language about respect and courtesy, and the principle mission of the board: To serve the town.

“…The primary objective of our service is to benefit … the Town of Marion … over the injection of any personal agendas or political beliefs.”

This was promptly followed by contention over four sets of meeting minutes needing approval, resulting in the criticism of accuracy, the defending of it by Lane, clerk for the board, and the acceptance of only one set of minutes.

The next meeting of the Marion Planning Board is scheduled for April 6 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.

By Jean Perry


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