Part 2 of proposed zoning changes: New land uses, DRB discretion

This is the second in a series of articles on Chester’s new development bylaws which include new zoning, subdivision and flood hazard mitigation regulations. To read the bylaws click here and to see the proposed town-wide zoning map click here.  See last week’s Chester Telegraph for more details on new and changed zoning districts. For comparison, click here for the current zoning regulations.

By Shawn Cunningham

In each zoning district there are “uses” that properties can be put to. Broadly, there are two types of uses. “Allowed” uses only require a permit while “conditional” uses need to be looked at by the Development Review Board. You can’t use a property for anything that is neither an allowed use or a conditional use.

If the bylaws are adopted, landowners may find that ways they can use their land have changed.

The proposed bylaws add a number of new uses, but also consolidates or deletes others. If the bylaws are adopted, landowners may find that ways they can use their land have changed. Here are a few changes that affect most districts.

Allowed uses

In the current zoning regulations, most of the districts share the same allowed uses. These are “one family dwellings,” “two family dwellings,” “accessory building,” “home occupation,” “professional residence,” “private recreation” and “agricultural and forest use.”

The proposed bylaws change most of these to “residential one and two family,” “accessory use (e.g., home child care, home occupation,)” “accessory structure,” “agricultural/forestry” and “accessory dwelling.” The last allowed use on the list — accessory dwelling — is new, allowing a homeowner to add another dwelling unit no larger than 30 percent of the main dwelling’s square footage. It’s unclear whether the dwelling has to be part of the owner-occupied one-family home or is just “subordinate to” it.

The “private recreation” allowed use in current regulations has become a conditional use called “recreation” in the proposed bylaws.  Private recreation is defined in the current bylaws as swimming pools (in and above ground,) tennis courts, ponds and other recreation carried on, either indoors or out, by a family. The definition of “recreation” in the new rules is unclear – since it refers to it as an allowable use when recreation has been made conditional throughout the town. Nevertheless,  a reading of that new definition leaves open just how far the need for a DRB review would reach into facilities for private leisure time activities.  It states clearly however that all recreational uses are subject to performance standard review.

Proposed zoning districts. Click map to enlarge. This is a large file and may take a few seconds to load.

Proposed zoning districts. Click map to enlarge. This is a large file and may take a few seconds to load.

Conditional uses

The conditional uses – those that must be reviewed and approved by the Development Review Board — shrank in number dramatically from the current regulations to the first draft of the new bylaws. For example the conditional uses for the Residential 80,000 square foot (that refers to minimum lot sizes) dropped from 27 to nine in the first cut. (As mentioned last week, “R-80” as it is known, has also changed to R3 meaning that the minimum lot size in most of the town will be 3 acres or 130,680 sq ft.)

Since the early drafts, the Planning Commission has added “Civic/Institutional” to the conditional uses, which includes churches, schools, libraries, cemeteries, hospitals and other government owned or operated facilities. The Civic/ Institutional use was also added to the Conservation Residential district, which saw its minimum lot size rise from 80,000 square feet to 5 acres (217,800 square feet).

“The new rules give more authority to the DRB to decide what uses are appropriate.” 

Tom Bock
Planning Commission chair

According to Planning Commission chair Tom Bock, making the list of conditional uses shorter and more general puts more discretionary power in the hands of the Development Review Board. “The new rules give more authority to the DRB to decide what uses are appropriate,” said Bock.

This leaves many uses open to interpretation. For example: Is a commercial sawmill a home business? It might be allowed in the R3 district, but most of the other districts – including the “Village Center” and “Stone Village” — have home-business conditional uses. Where might a future DRB draw the line that says a sawmill is a home business in one district and not in another and what standard will it use to make the decision? Find the proposed conditional uses for your zoning district and the definitions that outline how they are to be interpreted by clicking on the links in the first paragraph.

No other existing districts saw a change in uses from the first draft of the bylaws to this draft, however the new district (Adaptive 3 acre) that was created out of the former armory site and the lot just west of Balch Road along with the Motel in the Meadow and Stone Hearth Inn properties will have new conditional uses including health care facility and light industrial. This, according to Bock, was to make the armory site more attractive for redevelopment.

The Chester Planning Commission will hold a public meeting to hear comments on the new bylaws at 7 p.m. Monday May 19 on the second floor of Chester Town Hall, 556 Elm St. Unless the commission makes substantial changes to them after the hearing, the new bylaws will go to the Chester Select Board for public hearings before they can be adopted.

NEXT WEEK: The devil is in the details and for development those are the “standards.” We will look at the standards and the way they are reviewed – as they exist and as proposed – with an eye toward how they might stand up to legal challenges. Got questions? Let us know and we’ll look into them: Please put ZONING QUESTION in the subject line.

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