The Planning Board indicated last night that it would work on a bylaw to restrict recreational marijuana sales. The board voted to add a “placeholder” for the article the Warrant for Annual Town Meeting in April.
No details have been discussed yet. The potential bylaw is one of the topics the board will cover at its January 23rd meeting. At that time it will also discuss Over 55 housing units and an “overlay district”.
Over 55 Housing
The Town has reached its 7% cap on approved special permits for Over 55 multifamily housing. Officials have recognized a continuing need for moderate/reasonable priced housing for seniors. But so far, I haven’t seen a publicly proposed bylaw revision asserting to solve the issue.
Southborough’s 55+ bylaw language was added to encourage lower/moderate income housing, allowing long time residents to downsize in town. To that end, the bylaw called for projects to be owned by a public or a nonprofit community housing organization.
However, that restriction was in a separate section of the Town code. It was ignored or dismissed by the Zoning Board of Appeals for years (assisted by arguments by developers attorneys that it wasn’t applicable). That led to much of the stock being used by developers reaping profits through high end housing. And Town Counsel was recently informed by a judge that it would be illegal to dictate who can own the property.
An effort by Town Counsel to get Town Meeting voters to strike that “unenforceable” language from the bylaw failed. Instead, voters opted to indefinitely postpone the article. At the time, Advisory member Sam Stivers suggested the bylaw should be re-written.
In December, a resident told Planning he wanted to raise the 7% cap to allow more elderly housing opportunities. He asked the board to look at drafting a bylaw revision or supporting a citizen’s petition. The board said it would discuss at a future meeting.
Drafting a new bylaw on overlay districts was one of the promises made to voters at October’s Special Town meeting. The intent is to replace one of the more common “good uses” for Use Variances. At the special meeting, voters eliminated the Zoning Board of Appeals right to grant the variances. An overlay district would apparently allow septic for commercial buildings to be sited on abutting residentially zoned land.
Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings bylaw
The other “good use” for Use Variances was allowing preservation of historic buildings by granting alternative uses. That is being addressed through a proposed Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings bylaw. The hearing for that bylaw was opened last night.
After several issues were raised with the draft last night, the hearing was continued to February 6th at 7:00 pm.
One question raised was the adding of accessory apartments through the special permit. Resident David Parry pointed out that any home can add an accessory apartment as long as it doesn’t exceed 25% of the building. Historical’s Michael Weishan said that the ZBA often rejects the permit requests. His committee wanted to make it a use not subject to the “whimsy of a Town board.” Parry responded that it would be at the “whimsy” of the Planning Board.
Parry argued that the ZBA often rejects permits based on the objections of abutters. He believe that those same abutters would object if a project came before the Planning Board, making them likely to reject it. It was one of many critiques Parry offered.
Lengthy constructive criticism was also given by Planning member Phil Jenks and by resident Sam Stivers.
The bylaw had been drafted by a Working Group comprised of two members of the Historical Commission, one member of Planning and the Town Planner. The working group borrowed language from similar bylaws in other towns to start the process. And they tried to eliminate uses that they believed would be a problem for abutters (e.g., general retail sales, automotive repairs).
The current draft had been approved by Historical. Weishan said his committee assumed that Planning would provide the expertise on bylaw language and suggest changes.
Weishan told Planning that he believed his board was amenable to any changes – as long as they don’t undermine the intent. Historical is interested in offering opportunities that encourage preservation of historic exteriors/facades.
Planning sent the draft back to the Working Group for more work. To help, they added Parry as an additional “at large” member. Parry has served as a selectman, member of the Historical Commission, and a City Planner. The soon to start Town Planner will be responsible for incorporating changes already provided through meeting comments and notes. (The board plans to point her to Southborough Access Media’s video of last night’s meeting.)