Fence Disagreement Goes Legal

The Rochester Historic District Commission’s permit condition mandating the erection of a “25-percent visibility” fence for the Briggs Hobby Barn property on New Bedford Road and the applicant’s appeal of that condition might end up in legal mediation.

            At its June 27 meeting, Commission Chairman Matthew Monteiro said that is why the panel should vote down the agenda item to send a letter of explanation of its decision to the Planning Board, which has vocally objected to the condition. The issue is in the hands of lawyers now, he said. Commission members quickly agreed.

            Monteiro explained the applicant, Mark Briggs, has filed his appeal of the Certificate of Appropriateness that the commission granted to the project, and the next step will be finding a mediator or an arbitrator to bring the issue to a satisfactory resolution as lawyers’ both sides get involved.

            For the Historic District Commission, he said, that mediator will be the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD). Monteiro said he has contacted SRPEDD to start that process and has yet to hear back.

            Meanwhile, he said, he knows Town Counsel and the applicant’s attorney will be seeking information and project files. “It’s a more formal situation with lawyers involved,” he said.

            “The issue should stay with the lawyers,” commission member Sara Johnston agreed. “It’s out of the Planning Board’s hands. Send that letter? Not right now.”

            Briggs Hobby Barn was a plan to construct two buildings to store and repair collectible automobiles, trucks and other motor vehicles on New Bedford Road. It received a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals on May 23, a Certificate of Appropriateness from the District Commission on June 5 and a site-plan-review permit from the Planning Board on June 11.

            After the commission added the fencing condition, Briggs’ attorney Karla Chaffee complained to the Planning Board that a solid stockade fence had been her client’s proposal for the cemetery border to the property since the project was first designed. She said she will take court action against that condition, as it will change the design plan and might reignite the entire permitting process.

            Planning Board Chairman Arnold Johnson, then and in later meetings, sided with Briggs and Chaffee. “I think a 25-percent-visibility fence will be more of an eyesore,” he said. He called the condition “ridiculous.”

            On June 27, Johnston defended the commission’s condition mandating a semisolid fence. She said one of the Historic District Commission’s missions is to protect the “setting” of the town’s historical district. “A solid fence is like a monolith,” she said. “It’s in your face. It presents a different setting for our district. A 6-foot solid fence is very suburban, too suburban.”

            In other action, the commission granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to the First Congregational Church of Rochester, 11 Constitution Way, for its plan for a playground to include a play set, picnic tables and a 4-foot-high, black chain-link fence, as proposed by Ron Stafford, chairman of the church’s Board of Deacons.

            The commission acknowledged that this was veteran member Susan Fleming’s last meeting on the board.

            The Rochester Historic District Commission did not schedule its next meeting upon adjournment.

Rochester Historic District Commission

By Michael J. DeCicco

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