Chester residents concerned over changes to zoning regulations

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

While a large portion of the time spent at last Monday’s Chester Planning Commission public hearing on changes to the town’s Unified Development Bylaws was concerned with commercial uses being added to residential districts, one of the recurring themes was the need to craft a document that the Development Review Board could use to limit development that attendees deemed inappropriate.

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Commission chair Tom Bock said the board was there to listen to the concerns of the public, but that no changes would be made that night. The work of looking into the comments of the 24 landowners who attended would be done at a later meeting, he said.

Rosie Harlow Segal of High Street told the commission that she appreciated how difficult the work on the bylaws had been but that she and her neighbors were concerned about that heavy construction, building trades and construction, sawmill and campground uses were being introduced into the R-40 district. R40 is a Residential district where lots have to be at least 40,000 square feet — that’s just under one acre — to allow for building.

Bock told Segal that there are R-40 districts all over – not just on High Street and that many of the uses would not work in her neighborhood. Board member Naomi Johnson told Segal that some of the uses were in the previous zoning regs and “didn’t transfer over.” Johnson said these uses were now being added back.

Actually, in Part Two of a four-part series in The Telegraph in 2014 on the bylaws leading up to their ratification by the Select Board, notice was taken of the shrinking number of conditional uses in most districts. This was the explanation at that time:

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.

Pointing out that “campground” was now a conditional use for the R-40 district, which he noted includes Church Street, Doug Sommerville asked if that neighborhood “could conceivably have a ‘Horseshoe Acres type of development.’ ” He was referring to the campground north west of the town hall in Andover.

Bock said that the size and nature of such a development would be determined as a conditional use by the DRB.  Select Board member Heather Chase said that from her discussions with members of the DRB, they feel that “if it’s in there, they have no leeway … how many have the DRB actually denied? They don’t have any wiggle room,” she said.

Bock  and Johnson said that the DRB could look at hours, impact on traffic, noise, smell and other standards that applicants have to meet. Zoning Administrator Michael Normyle said that a conditional use still has to go through the DRB hearing process and that in several instances the board had limited hours and days of opening. Normyle told the meeting about a recent case in which a chainsaw carver wanted to buy a house on Depot Street near town hall and the DRB put a number of conditions on his business. “Sometimes they frustrate me because they are so by the book,” said Normyle.

Segal asked how the board could reconcile one set of uses for a district that had so many very different areas in it. Bock said that perhaps sub-districts like R40A or R120A could be created. “We could look at that,” said Bock. “It may or may not work.”

Commission member Claudio Veliz, recalled the input of Phil Perlah – appearing at an earlier meeting as a landowner, not as a member of the DRB. Perlah asked if it was reasonable “to allow a spectrum of activities in most districts and then rely on the judgment of the DRB to filter out what does or doesn’t get through?” “Why put the DRB through that?” Veliz said, quoting Perlah’s question at the earlier meeting.

Veliz noted that the Residential Commercial District is comprised of three very different areas, each with its own distinct character, but all three are zoned for the same uses. Urging more discussion about a fix for this, Veliz said he thought that a buffer area from district to district might be a way to protect the character of more sensitive areas.

Board members said that anything that was found to be a problem could be corrected in future revisions and Julie Hance, who is the secretary of the planning commission, said that the upcoming master planning would be likely to yield changes in zoning. “Ten years from now, the districts won’t look like they do now,” said Hance.

Resident Susie Forlie told the board that by the time the next revision could be considered, any number of problems would be grandfathered.

The next Chester Planning Commission meeting will be held at 7 p.m.  Monday, June 6 at Town Hall, 556 Elm Street.

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