Zoning Board of Appeals - May 25th, 2021

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Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1336.

Approval of Decisions

The board approves written decisions for

  • Docket 3657, 12 Christine Road
  • Docket 3656, 53 Pine Ridge Road

Post-Covid Meeting Protocols

(Christian Klein, ZBA Chair) Mr. Klein informs the board that the state house and senate have bills to extend options for open meetings. Governor Baker also plans to file legislation that would allow virtual meetings until September.

(Pat Hanlon, ZBA) Mr. Hanlon believes part of the effort involves giving the legislature time to study hybrid meeting models.

(Steve Revilak, ZBA) Mr. Revilak would prefer to resume in-person meetings later rather than sooner. He won't receive his second vaccination until early June.

Docket 3658 - 83 Palmer Street

This docket was filed as an appeal of the building inspector's decision, but there's actually a bit more to it.

(Robert Annese, Attorney for the petitioner) Mr. Annese says this docket is almost like a request for declaratory relief. He's going to ask the board to review a decision made in 1955, which allowed a parcel to be subdivided into two lots, one with approximately 4,200 square feet and the other with 5,504. At the time of the subdivision, the 4,200 square foot lot contained a house, and the 5,504 square foot lot was vacant. A single family home was subsequently built on the vacant lot.

Mr. Annese believes the board allowed the subdivision to facilitate the construction of a new home. He'd like the board to determine whether it intended to limit construction to a single-family home. The board's 1955 decision doesn't list much in the way of findings of fact, so it's hard to tell what their reasoning was. Mr. Annese thinks there may be a defect in the decision; it didn't provide findings of fact or say what the subdivision is limited to. Of course, the period for challenging such deficiencies is long past.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if the building department stated this isn't a two-family lot.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says the lot is in a R2 district, but the question is if a two-family home would have been allowed in 1955. He'd like the board to amend the 1955 decision, so that a new two-family home could be constructed without the need for further relief.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon asks when the existing house was built.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says it was built around 1955.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon asks if Mr. Annese knows of any plans that might have been submitted at that time.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says no, he hasn't seen any plans.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon asks if there's any record of a building permit.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese hasn't been able to locate a building permit from that time. Again, he's asking the board to amend their 1955 decision.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon asks if he'd be making a similar argument, if the goal were to rebuild a single-family home instead of a two-family.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says yes, he'd make the same argument in that case.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon notes that this is the second case in six weeks that's involved an odd subdivision from years ago. The ZBA decision looks like an application for a subdivision. He asks if Mr. Annese knows what authority the board had back in 1955, and where that authority came from.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says the ZBA approved subdivisions in the late 1960's, under provisions of Chapter 40A. He doesn't know if any local bylaws are applicable.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon notes that this is the second case where the board allowed subdivisions into non-conforming lots. He'd like to understand what their rationale was.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese isn't sure. He suspects the board might have been trying to do something reasonable.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if the home could be rebuilt under Chapter 40A section 6, assuming the board could reach a finding of "not substantially more detrimental to the neighborhood". Without the 1955 decision, it seems we'd have to go that route.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese believes that is a possible option.

(Roger Dupont, ZBA) Mr. Dupont read the 1955 decision, and it seems as if the ZBA was acting like a planning board. He wondered if the two lots were conforming with area and frontage at the time. However, the decision itself says that both lots are too small.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese agrees.

(Roger Dupont) Mr. Dupont says it seems like the ZBA was trying to do the right thing, but they acknowledge that they're creating non-conforming lots. He's concerned that similar decisions and subdivision plans are going to come up, and wonders if town counsel might provide some guidance.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon agrees that this isn't a one-off. The decision implies there were similarly subdivided lots in the area. There may be similar cases coming before the board in the future, and we'll need to consider the precedent that might be set.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore hopes the board will consider what happened with the decision, and what occurred after. He thinks that zoning in effect now shouldn't be undone because of what was in effect then.

(Philippe Heckly) Mr. Heckly lives in a two-family home on Palmer street. He's not concerned about a new two-family house; he's concerned about a new two-family house that looks like the ones that were built on Beacon Street. He says that style of building isn't particularly enticing and brings division into the neighborhood. He's concerned that the sloped driveways are detrimental to social gatherings.

(Andy Hazelton) Mr. Hazelton isn't opposed to a two-family home, as long as it's in keeping with the character of the street. He refers to a section in the residential design guidelines that says parking should not dominate the facade.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer asks what the minimum lot size was in 1955. He doesn't understand why the board thinks they were undersized at the time.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak reads the handwritten note from the subdivision plan, which states that the new parcels were smaller than the minimum lot size.

There's no further comment from the public.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese tried to locate a 1950's era zoning bylaw in the library and town clerk's office, but wasn't successful. He thinks the minimum lot size might have been 5000 square feet in the past, but couldn't say whether it was that way in 1955.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon says this would be a fairly straightforward non-conformity if the minimum lot size was 5000 square feet at the time.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese agrees. This could be considered under chapter 40A section 6.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if the applicant intended to renovate the existing building, or replace it with a new one.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says the building would be replaced.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon would like an opportunity to consult with town counsel.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese would like the section 6 approach to be considered. Whether the board's decisions in the 1950s and 60s were right or wrong, people relied on them at the time.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon would like to present the broad question to town counsel, so we can get a sense of how to deal with similar cases.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says he'll need more than a surveyor's plot plan to make a section 6 finding. He points out that town meeting just passed a zoning change that allows homes on non-conforming lots to be reconstructed by right, as long as they meet certain energy-efficiency standards. That may be another option to consider.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein would like to have Mr. Hanlon and one other board member speak with Attorney Heim and report back to the board.

The board votes to continue the hearing to June 15th, 7:30pm.

Docket 3655 - 34 Marathon Street

This hearing was continued from May 11th. The petitioner plans to add dormers to a two-family home. The hearing was continued because the board needed additional information to determine if the property was non-conforming with respect to open space, and if the altered third floor would meet the definition of half-story.

(Rick Vallarelli) Mr. Vallarelli says he's been in touch with the architect, who provided detailed measurements of the third floor. The second floor has 1,269 square feet of gross floor area. With the dormers, the third floor would have 627 square feet, and this meets the definition of half-story. They've also provided dimensions for the back yard, showing that the property has no usable open space.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon asks if there's enough landscaped open space.

(Rick Vallarelli) Mr. Vallarelli believes they're well in excess of the 10% required.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if there are any plans to change the driveway or the walkway.

(Mr. McGovern, Petitioner) Mr. McGovern says the driveway and walkway will stay as-is. In addition to the dormers, they're planning to make improvements to the exterior of the building: new siding and new paint.

(Rick Vallarelli) Mr. Vallarelli points out that the property has four parking spaces, and only two are required.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

There are no comments from the public.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks board members if they'd like to suggest any special conditions for this project.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak can't think of anything, beyond the standard conditions.

Permit approved with conditions, 5--0.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon thanks Mr. Vallarelli for the additional help he provided to the applicants.

Upcoming Dates

  • 6/1. 1165R Mass Ave
  • 6/10. Thorndike Place
  • 6/15. 83 Palmer Street
  • 6/25. Close of Thorndike Place hearing. (This is a milestone date)
  • 7/2. Close of 1165R Mass Ave hearing (this is a milestone date).