With only one hearing on the June 27 agenda, the Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) might have had an easy meeting. But variances are one of the more difficult requests the ZBA has to study while determining the merits of an application, and abutters’ concerns must be taken into consideration. Such was the case when Christopher Gerrior, a Rochester native and member of Rochester’s Conservation Commission, filed his request seeking a variance for the construction of an over-sized accessory building to be used as a woodworking shop along with a second structure to house a portable sawmill.
Gerrior read from a prepared declaration of his reasons for requesting a variance. He noted that when he purchased and built his home in 2014, it was always with the intention of placing a woodworking shop and sawmill in the front yard of his 1 Perez Smith Lane location. He explained that other locations in the 11-acre parcel could not be used due to their location near or within wetlands and that constructing in those areas would produce disturbances to the environment that would equate to more costly construction methods. Those two points were his primary reasons for believing a variance was in order.
Gerrior’s third and stickier point was that the variance requested would not cause problems for the neighbors. On that point things got heated.
Diana Murphy said that parcels she owns in the area share an ancient way that runs directly through Gerrior’s property granting her rights that might impact Gerrior’s plans.
Richard Medeiros whose residential lot abuts Gerrior’s said that a stone wall along Perez Smith Lane actually was on his property and he was concerned that sawmill activities with heavy trucks using the narrow roadway would be problematic. He also said that the sawmill would be noisy, disturbing the peaceful use of his property.
Abutter Judy Schaaf submitted a four-page letter that most of the ZBA had not had time to read. She was asked to summarize her concerns.
Schaaf questioned the application’s accessory structure measuring 36 feet by 60 feet and contained a loft area. Schaaf said that the bylaws did not allow for accessory buildings to have a second floor. That was her main complaint, but she also voiced concerns over the noise the sawmill would create. The second structure proposed was a 12-foot by 24-foot three-sided shed that would be used to protect the sawmill itself. Schaaf said that such a structure would not mitigate the noise level.
“I’m a professor: I work at home,” she said; thus, noise from a loud engine would be a problem.
Several times throughout the proceedings Gerrior said that the purpose of the accessory buildings was to replicate a woodworking shop his father had had on his Rochester property prior to selling that parcel and downsizing. He said it was always the family’s intention to place his father’s substantial collection of tools in a new shop they would share. Gerrior further said that lumber removed from his father’s property had been relocated to his property, although he also had a forestry plan for his property and had been exercising his right to cut lumber.
Gerrior explained that the woodworking activity was “only a hobby”, one that the three generations of the family wanted to continue to enjoy together.
The discussion and debate continued for nearly two hours and became increasingly tense. Medeiros asked, “What’s the need for such a large building if this is just a hobby?” He inquired if the structures would have utilities and if noise levels would increase. He also added, “In that area there are at least four retirees home all day. Like me, they want their peace and quiet.”
Gerrior countered that he liked quiet also and that the hobby shop wouldn’t be used every day all day long, but intermittently. He said he was open to restrictions on days and times for running the sawmill.
In the end, the ZBA agreed with Gerrior, but not before Medeiros continued to try and argue against the variance. He was repeatedly being told by Chairman David Arancio that the public portion of the meeting was closed and he had to be quiet. This only seemed to inflame Medeiros who eventually stormed out of the meeting swearing under his breath.
The ruling was that Gerrior could construct the accessory buildings in the front yard, which is some 400 feet away from Walnut Plain Road, that the loft could only be used for storage, and that the buildings would not have plumbing, could not be converted into habitable spaces, could only be used for personal activities, could not be used for business activities. Furthermore, the sawmill would only be used between the hours of 10:00 am and 6:00 pm, and a 100-foot long line of evergreens would be planted to the south for screening and noise mitigation.
The next meeting of the Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals has not been scheduled and will be should any applications be submitted.
Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals
By Marilou Newell