No Frontage, No House on Bog Property

            Walter Hartley will not be building a house on the 15-acre Pine Street parcel that was once in the family and recently acquired after all.

            Representing his daughter, applicant Katherine Hartley of 16 Walnut Plain Road, to the Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals in a February 25 public hearing, Walter Hartley could not convince the ZBA to vote for the two variances that would have allowed construction under Chapter 20.40, Section D.1 of Rochester’s Zoning bylaws. One variance was for approval to construct the single-family dwelling on the lot with frontage falling short of the required 225 feet. The other variance sought relief from the requirement to build the house in a rectangle plan.

            The sticking point in the case was the immutable fact that the lot at 0 Pine Street only has 16 feet, 8 inches of frontage with which to work. Walter Hartley argued that, had the lot’s frontage been substantially greater, the driveway would not be made any wider.

            Two ZBA members, Kirby Gilmore and Richard Cutler, sympathized with Hartley’s situation, and Gilmore considered the short frontage a hardship because it had been established many years before zoning bylaws were established in Rochester and when the property was in the Hartley family.

            Walter Hartley’s revised plan was based on Fire Chief Scott Weigel’s comments requesting a widening of the bog road over its full length and a turnaround for vehicles. Zoned for agriculture, the property purchased in 2019 has an upland bog but no dwellings. Hartley argued that building the house would save the property from an uncertain future that theoretically could wind up hosting a solar array.

            The key abutter, Jeffrey Ponte of 45 Pine Street, asked the board to establish “the specific hardship is as far as the frontage is concerned…. What is that hardship?”

            When Cutler alluded to the variance requirement of 225 feet of frontage, Ponte repeated his question and cautioned the ZBA. “You’re setting a precedent for all future petitioners here that, no matter what kind of frontage they have [it will not matter].

            “The Planning Board was 5-0 against this…. I just can’t see this board being in favor of this petition. This is ridiculous…. You’re just shredding the bylaws…. He does not have the frontage [because] driveways are not frontage.”

            Abutter Charlene Haws, 48 Pine Street, lives directly across from the entry to the driveway and told the ZBA, “Part of the reason I moved here [was] the charm and the character, the bogs and … undisturbed. If you do this, you are opening a can of worms. It’s not remotely close to what should be allowed.”

            The tipping point for Gilmore was the testimony of Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson, who alluded to much smaller lots at Connet Woods being granted variances with as little as 30 feet of frontage. The safety-access minimum, he said, is 18 feet, and for a solar field, 16 feet.

            Johnson acknowledged that the lot in question was created before zoning altogether, “So we try to apply some common sense,” he said, referencing the rectangle requirement. But the most extreme frontage situations, Johnson pointed out, do not approach the Hartley request.

            Gilmore accepted Johnson’s answers to his questions and joined the ZBA in its unanimous 5-0 denial to grant the frontage variance. Katherine Hartley can file an appeal within 20 days of the decision.             The next meeting of the Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled for March 11 at 7:00 pm.

Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals

By Mick Colageo

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