There was widespread support on Monday night for the so-called Demolition Delay Bylaw at the May 7 Marion Planning Board public hearing. The bylaw is derived from a citizen petition to place the article before Town Meeting in the fall.
Formally known as “The Preservation of Historically Significant Buildings” Bylaw, the regulation would provide owners of structures known or assumed to be 75 years or older with a process that would need to be followed in order to receive a permit to raze the structure.
Members of the Sippican Historical Society, who drafted this bylaw, spoke about the genesis of the document. Historical Society President Frank McNamee emphasized that the bylaw is designed “to save very historic buildings, not ranches from the 1950s,” which would technically be considered under this bylaw. McNamee added, “Right now, anyone can knock anything down without abutters even knowing…. We want to save Marion; we love it and want to protect it.”
Judy Rosbe, the Society’s treasurer, provided a brief history of the town, reminding the board that Marion is one of the oldest towns in the Commonwealth (once considered Old Rochester).
During the fight to protect the Captain Hadley house on the corner of Route 6 and Front Street, Rosbe said, “[I was] astounded that there was no process in place…” to protect the historic structure.
Using this project as an example of how the bylaw would be used, Rosbe described the legal framework that protects the Capt. Hadley house in perpetuity. A deed restriction requires the owner to preserve the exterior of the house with no changes or alterations. The intent of the proposed bylaw is to provide time for the community to develop a creative plan for a significant historic structure to be preserved.
The bylaw would apply to all structures in town, including town-owned buildings.
Planning Board member Jennifer Francis clarified that the bylaw would apply to the exterior of a building, and that interior work would not trigger the regulation.
Board member Chris Collings wondered, “Can we create a list on the front side so people know their structure triggers this [bylaw]?” to which board member Norm Hills responded that there is a list kept by the Sippican Historical Society, and a plan to update it using funding from the Community Preservation Committee.
Francis continued with her concerns, pointing to the section of the bylaw titled “Demolition by Neglect,” and asked, “What if a grandfather left [a house] to someone and they have no money to maintain it as described [in the bylaw]?”
Hills said the bylaw is just a delay and provides an opportunity “to preserve something historic,” but board member Andrew Daniel reiterated Francis’ concerns, saying, “…But what if they can’t afford it? I think a year’s a little long … what if it’s too expensive to repair? …When does it turn into a person being told what they can and cannot do with their property?”
Daniel stated that he liked the burden placed on the buyer to be aware if the structure would trigger the bylaw, but queried if it was obvious the building was not worth saving, should there be an avenue to take to by-pass the year delay.
Board member Will Saltonstall pointed out that there is an appeal process available with the Marion Historical Commission. He also spoke in favor of the bylaw, saying, “[It] establishes a baseline … yes, it is meant to slow the process down, to pause and evaluate the options.”
Board member Steve Kokkins interjected that it was important to make sure property rights were respected.
Saltonstall went on to say, “There are many things you can do in Marion by right. The conflict in Marion is machines show up and take [a structure] down without public input – this [bylaw] provides a forum for discussion. A unique quality of Marion is the significant and beautiful structures.” He pointed out that there is a value to Marion’s buildings, saying, “This inventory provides value to all of our properties, and balances the property rights issue.”
The Historical Commission would administer this bylaw, and there was agreement among the Planning Board members that the commission needs to be fortified because the bylaw will make the commission more active.
The board voted unanimously in support of this bylaw.
The town planner, Gil Hilario, presented information to the board about the FEMA Community Rating System (CRS) program that provides a discount to taxpayers on their flood insurance policy. Of the 2,336 homes in Marion, 497 are required to carry additional flood insurance which, as Collings pointed out, is roughly 20% of the town.
In order to qualify for the discount, municipalities must perform flood mitigation activities, which can include public outreach or bylaws pertaining to construction in flood-prone areas.
Collings spoke vociferously in favor of pursuing this program, urging the board to aggressively go after mitigation activities that would provide credits for the program and subsequently benefit the taxpayers.
Saltonstall asked if there was a downside, to which Hilario replied that there would be record keeping and annual recertification, which could be time consuming.
Francis suggested that Collings spearhead a group, possibly under the auspices of the Master Plan Implementation Committee, to research the “low-hanging fruit” and other activities the Town could do to qualify for this program.
This was Jennifer Francis’ last Planning Board meeting. Chairperson Eileen Marum announced Francis has been nominated for an award by SRPEDD for her exceptional leadership and efforts on behalf of the community. In response, Francis said she was “very, very pleased to be nominated.”
“…And I am in good company since Norm Hills received this award a few years ago – we must be doing something right in Marion … I am so glad we have been able to accomplish so much and move us forward.”
The next meeting of the Marion Planning Board is scheduled for May 21at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.
Marion Planning Board
By Sarah French Storer