ZBA First, Then Planning Board for Event Property

The Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals picked up on May 13 where it left off at its last meeting, but this time with the experience of a site visit to 0 Mendell Road for its deliberation of Laurie Whitney-Lawrence’s Special Permit application.

            Whitney-Lawrence wants permission to host large-scale events such as weddings and large catered gatherings at the bucolic setting of her sprawling property, and upon approval by the ZBA must go before the Planning Board for a site plan review.

            Town Counsel Blair Bailey said his role was to ensure the smoothest possible path for Whitney-Lawrence, who already has several events planned for the summer, including a wedding in early June. The ZBA’s concern was avoiding any conflicts between its authority to issue a Special Permit for the use of the property as an event venue and the Planning Board’s authority to regulate the site for such a use.

            Bailey assured the board that the correct order of operations would be for Whitney-Lawrence to go before the ZBA first for approval of the use and then the Planning Board, alleviating prior concerns.

            “It wouldn’t make sense to go to the Planning Board [for a site plan review] first,” said Bailey. The ZBA should first allow the use before the Planning Board acts to oversee the aspects of traffic, parking, lighting, hours of operation and signage among other things, some of which require an engineer.

            “If this board at the end of the day wasn’t going to give them permission to use the property for the use specified,” Bailey said, why make Whitney-Lawrence go through the bother of a site plan review first?

            ZBA Chairman David Arancio displayed some photos from the May 11 site visit of the property’s walkways, gazebo, tent area and designated lawn parking. ZBA member Richard Cutler asked for abutters and members of the public to chime in, but there weren’t any remotely present via Zoom this time around.

            The board then spent close to an hour discussing possible conditions for approval, including making the Special Permit non-transferable, setting event hours to no earlier than 9:00 am and no later than 10:30 pm for music or live entertainment, limiting guests to 240, which Whitney-Lawrence suggested as a maximum, and possibly to no more than three or four large wedding-scale events per month.

            Whitney-Lawrence was amenable to all of the conditions the board proposed that evening, saying that she only hosts one wedding-size event on any given weekend anyway, with fewer than 240 guests.

            When the topic of noise regulation arose, Bailey reminded the board that it would be futile to impose any strict restrictions beyond a timeframe for music or live entertainment.

            “Other than that, they are actually free to do whatever they want from a noise standpoint; anybody is, with few exceptions, because … we don’t have a noise bylaw (in Rochester).”

            The board agreed to allow Bailey to draft a decision for its May 27 meeting; however, in the meantime, as Whitney-Lawrence approaches the likely two-month long process before the Planning Board, the ZBA will include in its conditions language allowing for some specific event dates that Whitney-Lawrence will provide Bailey so that she can move ahead with her schedule.

            The board will be able to monitor the goings on at the business because the Board of Health will be overseeing food safety for catered events, and the town must issue permission for events that will be serving alcohol.

            Town Planner Steve Starrett gave an overview of the Planning Board timeline and said that Whitney-Lawrence could be meeting with him and Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson the next week for a technical review meeting and then the following week with the Planning Board for an informal discussion.

            The hearing was continued until Thursday, May 27, at 7:00 pm, the date and time of the next meeting of the Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals.

Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals

By Jean Perry

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