Less Is More When It Comes to Variance Requests

            In their public meeting held September 10, the Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals quickly concluded its business and minutes from their previous meetings in order to address a complicating zoning issue on New Bedford Road. The appeal in question pertained to a request for multiple variances for approval of a lot with reduced frontage, reduction in buildable area, and reduction in lot shape.

            In a continued public hearing, William and Anita Milka came before the ZBA to present their case for the variances. Anita Milka explained that her initial process for the request involved hiring an engineer to draw up plans that would display any changes to the lot and a series of discussions with the town’s Building Department on how to proceed with her application. The plans have undergone numerous iterations since the hearing was last continued from August 27.

            William and Anita Milka’s ultimate goal is to merge a lot containing a horse barn with an adjacent lot that contains a small ranch house. William Milka explained that the current situation precludes access between the barn and the ranch house due to a series of wetlands that bisect the two lots. The merger of the two particular lots in question would allow access between the lots without having to use the road.

            Zoning Board members Richard Cutler and Peter Sullivan had the opportunity to visit the site and agreed that the current structure of the lots provides a significant inconvenience to the Milkas.

            Chairman David Arancio agreed that the layout of the lots may be inconvenient, but whether or not there is significant justification for the need of the variances was still in question. The plan for the Milkas involved reverting the shape of the lot back to a previous shape that was in use in 1995. Despite the lot in question having significant history in the town, there could be no grandfathering based on work that was done prior, meaning that the site would fall under the town’s current bylaws. Thus, a simple transition back to a previous plan would not be possible.

            Arnold Johnson, Chairman of the Rochester Planning Board, also attended the meeting to voice his apprehension surrounding the lot. According to Johnson, the lot does not meet the required two acres of land area, meaning that it would need to seek a waiver for that complication as well. Johnson suggested that land be added to the lot in order to minimize the number of waivers needed for the plan to go forward.

            Arancio continued to express his concerns that the request for the variance seemed to be based more on want rather than need. Though he expressed understanding for William and Anita’s situation, he explained that the ZBA cannot grant variances without sufficient justification.

            William Milka admitted that he was not entirely familiar with how the Zoning board works through its decisions, but argued that the variances should be granted based on safety concerns and the financial burden for seeking different solutions. According to William Milka, the alternate solutions provided would require a complete reconstruction of the fence that lines his property. Additionally, the lack of variances would require continued use of the nearby road for access to the barn, posing a potential safety hazard.

            Unable to provide more justification for the variances at that time, both William and Anita Milka decided that the best course of action would be to continue the hearing to allow ample time for them to determine which variances were absolutely necessary. The ZBA agreed that a continuance would be best and advised the Milkas to determine which of the variances they should seek based on a want-versus-need scenario.

            Town Counsel Blair Bailey explained to the Milkas that a smaller number of variances needed almost always improves the possibility of the Zoning board’s approval. Further, a smaller number of requests for variance would allow them to strengthen their arguments for the variances that are absolutely vital to the plan.

            With that, William and Anita Milka requested a continuance of their hearing with the Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals to the next meeting set to take place on Thursday, September 24.

Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals

By Matthew Donato

Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals

By Matthew Donato

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