Nov 18

From the Town Administrator's Desk - November 18, 2022

Posted on November 18, 2022 at 9:53 AM by Tiffany Marletta

November 18, 2022
A Special Town Meeting Postscript
By Gregory T. Federspiel

An impressive turn-out of voters filled the auditorium and the cafeteria at the Middle High School last Monday, November 14th for a Special Town Meeting.  Over 560 residents showed up to debate articles ranging from supplemental budget requests to a series of zoning by-law amendments.  This was about double the more typical town meeting attendance.  A big thank you to all those who took the time to engage in what is considered one of the purist forms of direct democracy and a critical forum for managing the Town.

The evening certainly had its logistical challenges. The large number of people arriving right at the starting time caused a back-up registering voters.  A late start was compounded by a faltering electronic voting system.  The connection between the two meeting rooms that worked well during testing earlier in the day failed to stay connected between votes.  The added delays this caused were not conducive to a smooth-running meeting and apologies to all for the extra waiting time this caused.  The vendor will not be charging the Town for their services and will be troubleshooting what caused the problem (initial indications point to a compatibility issue with the software and the school network.)  We need to do better, and efforts are underway to ensure we do.

None-the-less, the meeting was able to accomplish quite a bit.  Town Moderator Alan Wilson and Assistant Moderator Jay Bothwick skillfully guided the large crowd through 8 articles, many of them dense in content.   Supplemental funds were approved for the on-going defense of the Shingle Hill 40B decision as well as for the repair or purchase of an ambulance.  

After amendments were debated and approved, voters gave a green light to a citizen’s petition article seeking a special act from the state legislators for a recall process for locally elected officials.  The request for a special act will be sent to our State Senator and Representative to advance this through the legislative process that will start up at the beginning of the New Year.  

Five important upgrades to the zoning bylaws were made.  These five focused on reformatting and clarifying current language and included the adoption of a new combined zoning map (rather than six separate ones) and a new use table that makes it much easier to see what uses are allowed in what districts and under what permitting processes.  An improved set of criteria for reviewing special permit applications was also adopted.  

The new use table did not change what uses are allowed and how the uses are to be approved.  For years the town has allowed either by-right or by special permit a range of non-residential uses in all residential districts – numerous municipal uses, professional offices, and medical centers, nursing  homes, hospitals, day care centers and schools, etc.  These potential uses remain in place.   

Proposed changes related to non-conforming uses, accessory dwelling units, adult entertainment establishments, cluster developments and senior housing were all passed over at the meeting.  This means there was no action taken on these proposals.  The Planning Board will need to decide which of these proposals they would like to resubmit for consideration at a future Town Meeting.

Considerable differences of opinion exist regarding some of these additional proposals.  Some worry about allowing an existing non-conforming use to be changed to a new non-conforming use even if it is less detrimental to the neighborhood as they feel non-conforming uses should diminish over time. Similarly, some feel that accessory dwelling units should always require a special permit.  Concerns have also been expressed about allowing cluster developments on lots smaller than 5 acres and the possibility of granting a special permit for senior housing in any district in Town.  

A majority of the Planning Board and the Select Board believe that these proposed changes will help diversity the housing stock.  With the vast majority of housing in town being large, expensive single family homes (average home values exceed $1.1 million) most people agree there is a lack of housing options.  

The question becomes how to promote housing diversity.  Just saying no to these proposal will not solve the housing issues in town.  Coming up with alternative proposals certainly could.   I hope we can tap into the passion and energy that was on display leading up to and at Monday’s meeting to develop proposals that will meet voter approval.  The Boards and I welcome your input to do just that.  

Nov 18

From the Town Administrator's Desk - November 11, 2022

Posted on November 18, 2022 at 9:47 AM by Tiffany Marletta

November 11, 2022
Special Town Meeting is Next Monday
By Gregory T. Federspiel

Residents are asked to gather for a Special Town Meeting at the Middle High School on Monday, November 14th.  The meeting gets underway promptly at 6:30PM.  Please allow enough time to park, check-in and get seated.  A voter booklet with all the articles and the specific language for each of the zoning amendments is available on-line at the Town’s web site or at Town Hall and the Library.  Copies will also be available when you sign-in for the meeting.

Given the number of zoning amendments being proposed, it may be necessary to continue the meeting to a second night.  If this is the case the meeting will continue Tuesday evening beginning at 6:30PM also at the Middle High School.

Here is a brief Article by Article review:

Article 1: Seeks additional funding to defend the ZBA’s denial of the 40B permit for the SLV project.

Article 2: Seeks approval to use funds set aside for Fire Department vehicles to either rebuild the current spare ambulance or purchase a new ambulance.  The decision to rebuild or buy new will be made by the Select Board in consultation with the Fire Department and the Finance Committee.

Article 3: Asks voters through a citizen’s petition article to seek a special act from State legislators allowing for local elected officials to be recalled “off-cycle” from normal elections.

Articles 4 – 16 propose various changes to the Town’s Zoning By-law.  It has been decades since the by-laws have benefited from a cover-to-cover update.  The new by-laws follow a clearer format, are updated to be consistent with new state laws and court cases.  One new use (senior housing) is proposed along with changes in the permitting processes for certain small apartments and new non-conforming uses.   

Article 4: Replaces Sections 1-4 of the bylaws; adds new definitions; adds a Use Table.

Article 5: Proposes to move Junk Cars, Curb Cuts and Stormwater regs the to the General by-laws and thus expand the applicability of these bylaws.

Article 6: Proposes to delete the above from Zoning assuming voters approve Article 5.

Article 7: Proposes to renumber Zoning By-law Section 7 to 12 and 6.1 to 7.0. (No other changes)

Article 8: Proposes to update the General Regulations mainly by improving the criteria for approving projects that need a special permit and/or site plan review.  

Article 9: Proposes to update Section 12 Administration and Procedures by strengthening the procedures for special permits and site plan review; specifies role of Planning Board.   

Article 10: Proposes clarification to how changes to non-conforming uses are handled.  Perhaps the most consequential clarification is that the new language makes it clear that a use that currently does not comply with zoning could, after undergoing a special permit review process, be changed to a new non-conforming use if the new use is deemed less detrimental to the neighborhood.  

Article 11: Asks voters to limit Adult Entertainment establishments to the Limited Commercial District only (the area to the north of Route 128.)

Article 12: Proposes to allow the clustering of homes in more situations and provides for more units (density bonuses) for a greater number of affordable housing or other public amenities.  The proposal would retain the need for a special permit but remove the acreage threshold and allow clustering if at least twice the minimum lot size is available.   

Article 13: Proposes a new use – Senior Housing – in any district in town if a proposal obtains a special permit.  

Article 14: Proposes that up to 20 small apartments constructed within existing homes could be approved annually without the need for obtaining a special permit (by-right instead if the project meets all the conditions.)  Removes the requirement that an ADU is allowed only on a double lot and in homes built prior to 1984.  Adds a 6-month minimum lease and owner occupation requirement.

Article 15: If Article 14 fails to gain approval, Article 15 seeks a more modest change by proposing to remove both the double lot requirement and the building age limit as well as reducing the parking requirement from 4 to 3 spaces while keeping the special permit requirement for all ADU’s in place.  If Article 14 is approved, then Article 15 would be passed over.

Finally, Article 16 proposes to amend the Table of Uses adopted in Article 4 by allowing family members in addition to an employee to live in an existing garage, stable or other existing structures converted to living space.

See you at the Special Town Meeting!  

Nov 07

From the Town Administrator's Desk - November 7, 2022

Posted on November 7, 2022 at 9:23 AM by Tiffany Marletta

November 7, 2022
A More Detailed look at Zoning Proposals
By Gregory T Federspiel

A fall Special Town Meeting is set for Monday, November 14th at the Middle High School starting at 6:30PM.   If necessary, the meeting will continue the next night.  A voter booklet containing all the articles and the detailed motions with the proposed new zoning language is available on-line.  Hardcopies are also available at Town Hall and Police Lobby, the Library and at the Memorial School during regular voting for the state elections (November 8, 7AM-8PM.) Copies also will be available at the Special Town Meeting (the booklets are not being delivered to every household.)

Zoning regulations can be confusing.  A primary goal of the proposed re-write of the Town’s zoning by-law is to make the regulations clearer and more user friendly.  It has been decades since a cover-to-cover review and updating of the by-law has been undertaken.  One of the pre-eminent land use attorneys in the state was hired to assist with this much needed update using funds voters approved for this purpose back in April of 2019.  Six articles (#4 - #9) are geared toward reformatting and clarifying our existing bylaws and make no substantial changes.  Articles 10-14 propose more substantive changes.

Article 4: Replaces Sections 1-4 of the bylaws; adds new definitions; adds a Use Table.

Article 5: Proposes to move Junk Cars, Curb Cuts and Stormwater regs the to General by-laws.

Article 6: Proposes to delete the above from Zoning assuming voters approve Article 5.

Article 7: Proposes to renumber Zoning By-law Section 7 to 12 and 6.1 to 7.0. (No other changes)

Article 8: Proposes to update the General Regulations mainly by improving the criteria for approving projects that need a special permit and/or site plan review.  

Article 9: Proposes to update Section 12 Administration and Procedures by strengthening the procedures for special permits and site plan review; specifies role of Planning Board.   

Article 10 would amend how changes to existing non-conforming uses and structures are handled.   The current bylaws state that changes to such structures and uses (which encompasses the majority of developed properties in town) can be made if a special permit is granted.  However, the by-law does not specifically say that a change to a new non-conforming use is allowed.  Without this specificity Town Counsel has advised not allowing new non-conforming uses.  The proposal states specifically that new non-conforming uses may be approved under a special permit if the new use is less detrimental to the neighborhood than the current use. It also makes it clear that an expansion of a single or two family house on undersized lots may occur without the need for a special permit as long as the expansion complies with the dimensional and lot coverage requirements.  Similar provisions are made for structures that currently do not comply with the setback requirements.  Allowing new non-conforming uses even if less detrimental to a neighborhood is a key issue for this article.  

Article 11 proposes to limit Adult Entertainment establishments to the Limited Commercial District (the lands to the north of Route 128.)  Currently our by-laws must allow such a use in any of our commercial or general districts.  Restricting such uses to the LCD seems to be generally viewed positively.

Article 12 proposes to modify the current section on “Residential Conservation Cluster” developments.  Currently, clustering of homes and creating more open space is allowed through a special permit for parcels of five or more acres. The proposal would retain the need for a special permit but remove the acreage threshold and allow clustering if a least twice the minimum lot size is available.  Additionally, the proposal would reduce the minimum amount of open space required and provide new density bonuses for more open space, affordable housing or other town amenities. These provisions are designed to encourage more cluster developments but may give pause to some.   

In Article 13, the one new use being proposed for the zoning by-laws – Senior Housing – is presented. The new use is proposed for any district, but it requires a special permit.   The lack of housing options for seniors has often been expressed as a concern.  Whether the use should be a possibility throughout town may garner debate.   

Accessory Dwelling units is the topic for Article 14.  Currently ADUs are allowed by special permit and only on double lots and in structures built before 1984. Consequently, the Town has very few ADU’s.  The changes proposed in Article 14 would allow small ADU’s (up to 900 square feet within any owner- occupied existing home) as a by-right use.   Up to 20 such units a year could be permitted.  A minimum 6-month lease is required for the ADU.  The issue of allowing these small units by right instead of through a special permit has generated differences of opinion.  

If Article 14 fails to gain approval, Article 15 seeks a more modest change by proposing to remove both the double lot requirement and the building age limit as well as reducing the parking requirement from 4 to 3 spaces while keeping the special permit requirement for all ADU’s in place.  If Article 14 is approved, then Article 15 would be passed over.

Finally, Article 16 proposes to amend the Table of Uses adopted in Article 4 by allowing family members in addition to an employee to live in an existing garage, stable or other existing structure converted to living space.  

All residents are encouraged to become familiar with these proposals and to attend the Special Town Meeting to decide which proposals should be adopted.