There was only one hearing on the agenda for the Rochester Planning Board on October 9. Continued from September 25 was the Special Residential Development proposed for Rounseville Road. The 22-duplex residential development planned for senior housing has been slowly processing through legal and regulatory entanglements associated with an existing conservation Order of Conditions, drainage issues associated with the Plumb Corner Mall, and the need for land legal swaps.
Coming before the Planning Board on this night was John Churchill, Jr. of JC Engineering, and Mike LaCava of REpurpose Properties to explain the current status of the project.
Churchill said that matters have been progressing slowly behind the scenes with Attorney Peter Paul working with the sellers. He also said that, based on feedback from people involved with historical preservation in town, they are working on new conceptual designs. He said that by Monday, he should have a letter from the trust granting REpurpose the right to move forward based on the execution of a pending agreement.
Churchill did share the positive news that soil at the Plumb Corner Mall had passed septic soil percolation testing and that they would have a formal submission by mid-November.
Planning Board Chairman Arnold Johnson said that the Planning Board was unable to review anything until a previously noted letter was in hand. He also asked that conceptual drawings be forwarded so the board members could review those in advance of a continuation of the hearing.
All agreed that, should the letter be received by the time of the January 8 meeting, more formal discussions could ensue on the conceptual plans and an escrow account for peer review consulting fees could be established.
Churchill said, “You guys have been great to work with.” Johnson thanked him for the update.
Also coming before the board was an Approval Not Required Application outlined by Bob Rogers of G.A.F. Engineering. Rogers said the 6-acre site is planned to be subdivided into two building lots and one non-buildable lot. He said one lot is proposed to be the location of a new daycare facility. The application was approved as submitted.
The biggest conversation of the evening came when Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Richard Cutler began discussing proposed changes to Zoning Bylaws. The Planning Board, as well as the ZBA, has been drafting new language for seven sections of the Town’s regulatory document, all in the effort to make the text easier for those charged with enforcing the bylaws and for the applicants. Collectively, they began to review and decide what they were ready to send to the selectmen for their review and inclusion in the warrant for the upcoming November 19 Special Town Meeting.
But they got stuck when Cutler proposed a specific sentence to one bylaw.
Titled “Agricultural/Residential Guiding Principal and Objectives,” the changes Cutler proposed didn’t sit well with several Planning Board members.
Johnson asked, “How does this interact with our right to farm?”
Cutler said he wanted to have an opening statement to this bylaw section that would give people a clear idea of the intent of the bylaw. Calling it a “non-enforceable” principal, he said that adding the words “protecting the values of residential properties” to the agricultural residential district rules wouldn’t conflict with the Town’s Right To Farm status.
“I hate that language,” said Johnson. “The farmer has a right to farm as long as he is using good practices on his property. … Maybe someone doesn’t like dust when the farmer plows his field in the spring,” he added.
Cutler said, “Remember, it’s agricultural and residential,” with an emphasis on ‘and.’
Planning Board member Chris Silveira said, “You can’t have it both ways.”
“Yes, the farmer does have the right, but doesn’t have the right to infringe on residents,” Planning Board member Gary Florindo said. “It’s a balance, each have their share of duties to each other.”
Planning Board member Ben Bailey said, “There are times when farmers go over the line.”
Florindo opined, “We can argue this till the cows come home.”
Johnson said that in his 19 years on the board, “No one has ever presented evidence of devalued property (due to a farm in close proximity).”
Johnson said he would ask town counsel to review the proposed language and try to come up with something everyone could agree with, but that it was not going to happen before the Special Town Meeting.
They also had difficulty accepting language changes in the form of definitions for “kitchens” and “living spaces.” Cutler offered a kitchen as a room or any space in a room in a residence or commercial building where food is prepared. A living space was defined as any space that could be used year-round, was heated, and had electric service.
Bailey and Silveira both thought the language could be used by a zealous code enforcement officer who wanted to call their heated garages living spaces, especially if they contained a microwave, or as Silveira said, “[When] a guy puts a pot of chili on his wood stove in the garage.”
Johnson said they would have to work on this, but also not before November’s town meeting.
They did agree to send the following sections to the selectmen with language changes that all agreed were necessary: Ground-mounted solar Photovoltaic Installations Overlay District,
Renewable or Alternative Energy Research and Development District, Table of Accessory Dimensional Regulations, Temporary Storage Units, Multi-family Zoning, and Codification Renumbering. These will be forwarded to the Board of Selectmen during the Monday, October 15 meeting.
The next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board is scheduled for October 23 at 7:00 pm in the town hall meeting room.
Rochester Planning Board
By Marilou Newell