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.