Once upon a time there was an innkeeper in Marion who wished to increase the number of bedrooms at her bed and breakfast from one to three. Seemed like a simple enough request to Kate Hill, 460 Front Street, since the Marion Zoning Board of Appeals had already granted her the first permit for the two existing bedrooms and the bylaw allows a maximum of three.
So, back in August, Hill went on her way when the ZBA closed the public hearing to take the matter under advisement. After she was gone, the board engaged in further discussion on the matter, voicing skepticism over the accuracy of Hill’s recount of her B&B operations.
The board members huddled around Chairman Marc LeBlanc holding an iPad as they browsed two websites and concluded that perhaps Hill was already renting three bedrooms, maybe even a fourth. And, with the public hearing already closed and Hill unable to speak to the board’s assumptions, the board adjourned the meeting with the information they accumulated to vote on the matter at a later date.
It wasn’t long before Hill read in the newspaper about what transpired after she left. She wrote an email to the ZBA and, with legal counsel, asked for the public hearing to be reopened in order to seek further legal counsel on the matter.
On September 22, Hill returned before the ZBA with Attorney Richard Schaffer to address the board’s prior post-public hearing comments, explaining that one of the rooms is only used for four months out of the year due to poor insulation; during the eight colder months, the room is sealed off and another room would be rented instead, currently considered a sewing room. That room would be used as the third bedroom during colder months.
“I was not here at the last hearing,” said Schaffer. “It sounds as if the board was a little off-center with respect to the issues, at least as I see them here.”
Schaffer cut right to the chase, saying that Building Commissioner Scott Shippey made the request that Hill simply provide him with a monthly report detailing which rooms are in use once the ZBA approves the third bedroom. Furthermore, Schaffer said the third bedroom and the inn is not a detriment to the neighborhood, and the inn also complies with the criteria listed in the bylaw.
“I think we meet every one of [the criteria] and we should be able to move forward and increase the use,” Schaffer stated.
Board member Betsy Dunn brought up the assessors’ records, which say the house only has four bedrooms, not including the bedroom Hill and her husband share on the bottom floor that was formerly a family room.
“So you have five bedrooms,” said Dunn.
“We’re not going to be relying on the Board of Assessors (for this legal matter),” stated Schaffer.
The board determined that it has 90 days until it had to make a decision once the public hearing was closed. After a few long-ish periods of silence and pauses for thought, the board chose to continue Hill’s public hearing until the next meeting so that Shippey could attend and give the board his opinion on the matter on his own behalf.
Another discussion ensued as to whether Hill should be able to rent her entire house, like many do on popular networks such as Airbnb, since Hill is a business operating under a special permit and others are simply residential homes.
“It doesn’t seem right to me,” said ZBA member Kate Mahoney. Other ZBA members voiced similar opinions.
The next meeting of the Marion Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled for October 13 at 7:30 pm at the Marion Town House.
By Jean Perry