Laurie Whitney-Lawrence will have to wait before she can legally use her Mendell Road property as a part-time event center.
What began in 2013 as a $7,000 savings for her daughter’s wedding and reception evolved into a venue for other events including a fundraiser for Rochester Youth Baseball, memorial services and bridal showers.
Whitney-Lawrence told the ZBA that by word of mouth the potential has grown to the point that the property is currently sought out by three more couples who want to get married on the 3.98-acre parcel that features a 106 by 46-foot tent and does business as Arch at the Meadow.
In Appeal No. 1162 heard by the Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals on April 22, Whitney-Lawrence went before the board seeking a Special Permit to host private functions including receptions and showers under Chapter 20.40, Section F.6.
The property has been owned by Whitney-Lawrence and her husband, Glenn Lawrence, of 332 Mendell Road since 1986, and it is zoned as residential/agricultural. The property has no dwellings but has seven structures, including a hangar housing two airplanes (down from five), a gazebo where the bartending service operates, and a mobile home that has been converted into a bathroom.
Whitney-Lawrence came before the ZBA hoping that the fact so little has changed on the property would produce the minimal deliberation required before a special permit would allow her to follow through on a schedule that hopes to host a wedding on June 12.
“Because we’re pursuing to do this a little bit more with people we have known, but now more people are coming to us,” said Whitney-Lawrence, who said she plans no more than three events per month. “Three tops is all we would ever want to do (per month)…. We’re not a traditional wedding [business].”
Her plan is to open the property to privately planned events at 9:00 am and close no later than 10:30 pm, depending on the function. She told the ZBA that her caterers are licensed and insured.
Rochester Fire Chief Scott Weigel spoke on the applicant’s behalf, having met last spring with the family. “They’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do,” said Weigel, who conducted a safety inspection. “I will do the same this year.”
Nonetheless, ZBA Chair David Arancio, who serves on the board of directors of the Rochester Youth Baseball and offered to recuse himself if any ZBA member thought he should – no one did so, and Arancio stayed on – agreed with members Richard Cutler and Kirby Gilmore that the situation is so far outside the box of anything the ZBA has tackled that more information is needed in order to judge the situation with confidence.
Planning Board Chair Arnie Johnson, who sat in on the public hearing, said he was waiting for an opportunity to discuss the matter with Town Counsel Blair Bailey, who was not able to attend.
Parking became a concern, but Whitney-Lawrence assured the board that only on one prior occasion did traffic spill out onto the street due to overflow, and steps have been taken to ensure that does not happen again.
It was estimated that there are 28 parking spots in the back of the property and an additional 50 spots in the front. “If it’s a large wedding, we ask them to rent bus transportation,” said Whitney-Lawrence.
While Whitney-Lawrence said she has the support of neighbors whom she said were on the call, they did not speak.
After lengthy deliberation, the board voted to continue the case to May 13 at 7:00 pm and will request Bailey’s attendance at the next hearing to address some of the questions posed by Johnson and ZBA members.
In Appeal No. 1163, applicants Carl and Jennifer Achorn of Mattapoisett were issued a variance for relief under Chapter 20.40, Section D.1, for the construction of the single-family house on an undersized (1.35 acre) lot.
The land, zoned for agricultural/residential use, was still owned at the time of the public hearing by Paul Chamberlain of Weymouth, and no buildings are on the lot at the present time.
The Achorns wish to build a 2,200 square-foot house and a subsurface sewage disposal system within the groundwater protection zone and estimated habitat of rare wildlife. The dwelling as planned will exceed all the required setbacks.
Abutter Nora Dupont, 182 Hartley Road, articulated concerns with wetlands and underground water. “There have been things that have happened around us and it does cause problems. It’s unpredictable,” she told the ZBA. “When we bought our house … we were told there would be no houses on that side because it was agricultural land and would always stay that way.”
Despite Dupont’s objection, the board voted to issue the variance with the condition that the house not exceed 2,200 square feet.
In other business, the ZBA reiterated its decision to continue reporting to the Annex building to sign case approval documents rather than use the costly DocuSign program.
The next meeting of the Rochester ZBA is scheduled to be held on Thursday, May 13, at 7:00 pm.
Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals
By Mick Colageo