In-law Apartment Approved

            Rochester’s Zoning Board of Appeals allowed the construction of a one-bedroom, in-law apartment on an undersized lot at 24 Bennett Road on February 15 after a lengthy struggle over how best to rule on the plan led to a telephone call to Town Counsel.

            ZBA Chairman David Arancio’s call to the town’s lawyers came after board members debated whether the petitioners, Robert and Christine Thompson, would be better served by a Special Permit rather than the use and side setback variances they were requesting. The Thompsons’ plan is to move into the 836-square-foot apartment so their son Robert, Jr. can move into the main house with his fiancee’ and their soon-to-be-born baby.

            Board member Jeffrey Costa said the Thompsons may have used the wrong variances and bylaw section to request ZBA approval and should have sought more professional guidance first. A special permit for the building addition may have been a better idea. Arancio said, unfortunately, the zoning panel must take up only what’s in the petition before them, and it is the burden of the applicant to get their application right.

            Arancio reported after the telephone call that Town Counsel advised him on how to approach both options. If the board deems the plan needs a special permit, the applicants would need to reapply. If the board wants to use the variance route, the hearing can move forward as is.

            In the end, the board granted the petition after getting Robert Thompson, Sr. to admit both variances are needed because of the hardships he would experience if he followed the literal regulations. First, the property has a unique topography, an undersized lot and hilly terrain that Thompson plans to alter. Second, there would be a financial hardship for Robert Thompson, Jr. to locate elsewhere.

            Before the vote, Robert Thompson, Jr. said in defense of the plan, “I love this town. I would like to start a family here. I would like to stick around.”

            In other action, the ZBA continued until February 29 its public hearing into a variance request for the construction of a 1,600-square-foot garage at 405 Neck Road, which would be larger than the 1,000 square feet allowed by law.

            Board members halted the public hearing after discovering the new structure would be placed at the front of the property, which in itself violates zoning bylaw. Yet this aspect of the plan was not on the application.

            The applicant, Michael Walsh, explained he recently moved from a larger home in Lakeville and needs a four-bay garage for his vehicles, boat and other storage.

            Board member Richard Cutler explained to Walsh that he might have problems selling the property in the future if the panel approved his plan as is now. Board members said they will consult first with the building inspector and Town Counsel.

            Also, Arancio reported Town Counsel has clarified the board’s quorum rules. Because the ZBA is a five-member board, it takes only three members present to open and conduct a public meeting, counsel told him. However, it still requires the presence of four voting members to approve a petition.

            The Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals set its next meeting for Thursday, February 29, at 7:15 pm at Town Hall, 1 Constitution Way.

Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals

By Michael J. DeCicco

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