Adhering to the advice of town counsel, the Marion Zoning Board of Appeals on January 16 deliberated the Special Permit application filed by Tabor Academy for four 90-foot field light poles to form a consensus so that he can draft a decision for the board to vote on at its next meeting.
The purpose of the non-binding so-called ‘straw vote’ rather than a definitive final vote was to avoid initiating the 14-day period for the ZBA to file the decision with the town clerk and to allow for enough time for Town Counsel Jon Witten to write up a final decision.
The ZBA closed the public hearing during its last meeting and solicited the input from the police and fire chiefs regarding concerns about on-street parking during night games when the lights would be used. According to Witten, “As long as the board addresses those issues (parking) they (both chiefs) are fine with it.”
Witten asked the board to deliberate the criteria of the special permit and if the project would fulfill special permit conditions or whether the board should instead refer to the Dover Amendment.
The Dover Amendment allows educational institutions to build facilities that exceed the maximum size allowed within the local zoning bylaws if the project directly serves an educational use.
“I’d prefer the board to articulate where you want to go with this, including any conditions that you would like imposed,” said Witten, specifying that he was not looking for a motion that evening or any suggestion of any promise of approval, just direction for him to draft the decision.
He advised the board to be specific and to provide legitimate findings to defend its decision should the ZBA leans toward special permit approval.
“That’s just good practice,” said Witten. “You need to articulate why it met the [special permit] requirement.”
Witten further cautioned the board that it should “spend a little extra time” that night as it deliberated the case, given that it had been remanded back to the ZBA by a Land Court judge.
“I feel very strongly that we should be considering the special permit rather than the Dover Amendment at this point,” said ZBA member Christine Frangos, “because I think, considering the Dover Amendment, if we were to rule that this met the requirements of the Dover Amendment [it] would open us up – would be a very slippery slope – open us up to potential other…”
“It’s precedent-setting,” ZBA member Margie Baldwin interjected.
Under a special permit, six conditions demonstrating that the lights would in some way serve the needs of the community and not pose a detriment to traffic and safety, utilities and public services, the character of the neighborhood, the environment, or town services must be met for approval.
“I don’t think… there are any adverse impacts over… the positive impacts,” said ZBA member David Bramberg. “I would say the proposal is acceptable under [a special permit].”
Chairman Marc LeBlanc identified traffic and safety as the two main concerns, including parking, which neighbors had expressed as a major concern, especially on Ryder Lane.
ZBA member Tad Wollenhaupt suggested imposing a condition that Tabor must employ an off-duty police officer during night games when the lights are illuminated.
“A police detail’s probably not out of the question,” said Wollenhaupt. “I don’t know if it’s unreasonable; I don’t know why it would be.”
The board agreed with Wollenhaupt’s suggestion.
“I think Tabor has shown that they’re willing to work with us in the town,” said LeBlanc. “I wouldn’t be opposed to putting something in writing with regards to a yearly review to sit down with Tabor and maybe fire and police and to say, ‘OK, we let this play out, where are we lacking, what could we do better?’ That way we’re not just putting it in a special permit and not revisiting it again.”
The board’s additional conditions would include a maximum of eight games per season – fall and spring – and a 9:30 pm shutoff time for games, 6:30 pm for practices. Furthermore, Tabor is allowed no more than three “community events” requiring night lighting per spring and fall season.
ZBA associate member Louise Nadler addressed how the lights might impact the character of the neighborhood, saying, “The first house [I] ever bought was next to a school. My feeling is that if there’s anybody who’s been living there for 220 or 180 years, then they have a dog in the fight; but I think that the school is, in fact, part of the neighborhood – and a wonderful part of the neighborhood – and I understand traffic and congestion can be an issue, but when your property abuts an institution of any sort there are pluses and minuses.”
“I would agree,” said Baldwin. “It’s a matter of coexistence. Tabor is there, the neighborhood is there, and I think that Tabor has made huge strides in reaching out to the neighborhood for their concerns.
“I think Tabor is part of the character of the town and we’re pleased to have Tabor be a part of the town,” continued Baldwin, “so I think it behooves us to work with Tabor and move forward with this.”
Wollenhaupt agreed, saying, “Tabor’s there, Tabor exists; the field is there, the field exists; we’ve all looked at the concrete footings for a year or two now and they exist… Yes, they will exceed what we have for a [height] limit; however, this is the better option and it doesn’t really take away for the character of the neighborhood.”
LeBlanc pointed out that this new special permit application only featured four light poles instead of the original five.
“That’s a vast improvement right there, just eliminating that other tower,” LeBlanc said.
He determined that the project was “not out of the realm of this application,” adding, “It seems like a special permit is the way to go, not the Dover Amendment.”
Witten felt that the board had covered everything he needed to draft a decision he assumed was leading toward special permit approval, and the board clarified some further conditions including quarterly reports certifying the number of games and events held in addition to the annual report, an annual review of safety, and that the building commissioner, police chief, and fire chief all have access to the program that controls the lights in the case of an emergency.
No parking would be allowed on Ryder Lane, and that will be enforced by a police detail.
Any changes to the permit would require Tabor to return before the ZBA.
The board will take a final vote during its next meeting.
In other matters, the public hearing for Stephanie and Richard Harding, 52 Ichabod Lane, was immediately continued until February 13.
The public hearing for Raymond Whitley and Natalia Vartapetova, 534 Point Road, was also immediately continued until February 13. The ZBA closed the public hearing
Cynthia Callow also appeared before the board seeking endorsement for appointment to the ZBA.
The next meeting of the Marion Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled for February 13 at 6:30 pm at the Marion Town House.
Marion Zoning Board of Appeals
By Jean Perry