The Harrisville Planning Board held its regular monthly meeting at the Town Office Building located on Chesham Road on Wednesday, October 12, 2016 at 7:00 p.m.
Members Present: Sherry Sims, Ned Hulbert, Heri Tryba, Courtney Cox, Nick Colony (alternate), Jon Miner (Selectman)
Members Absent: Selectman Andrew Maneval, Pete Thayer alternate, Noel Greiner (alternate)
Members of the Public and Town Officials Present: Winston Sims, Anne Howe, Donna Stone and Patty Massey
Ned Hulbert called the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m.
Attendance and Voting Members
Mr. Hulbert stated that the voting members are Sherry Sims, Courtney Cox, Heri Tryba and Ned Hulbert except on any vote of the Cucchi application in which case Sherry Sims would recuse herself and Nick Colony will be a voting member.
Approval of Agenda
Motion advanced to approve the agenda and all voted in favor.
Minutes of previous meeting 9/14/16
Mt. Tryba moved to approve September Meeting Minutes at the next meeting in November. All voted in favor.
Town Clerk Request for Clarification in the Zoning Ordinance
Donna Stone submitted a letter to the Planning Board requesting clarification on the Zoning Ordinance pertaining to residency. Ms. Stone stated that the state law allows each individual town to determine residency; the Town Clerk’s office currently uses the zoning ordinances to determine residency. She stated that there are three Definitions that are “gray” and a General Provision that she feels is gray. It would be helpful to have more definitive language. The PB will review the matter in time for discussion with the Town Clerk’s appearance at the November 9, 2016 PB Meeting.
Housing/Zoning proposed amendments
Mrs. Sims focused on three documents: The new law from the state on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), effective June 1, 2017; recommendations from the Housing Committee; and the large issues which the Planning Board faces. She discussed the sections of the regulations about which the Town has no choice and others which allow some discretion.
Mrs. Sims reiterated that it is mandatory for the town to provide ADU’s in every district that permits single-family housing. The town can state that a resident can construct an ADU: 1) By Right (by obtaining a Building Permit); 2) By Special Exception (going through the ZBA which is how ADU requests are processed now); or 3) through a Conditional Use Permit. Ms. Sims stated that the Housing Committee is tending towards a Conditional Use Permit because it’s the PB equivalent of the ZBA’s Special Exception.
The Housing Committee proposes that attached ADUs be allowed by right in the Agricultural/Residential District but that a Conditional Use Permit would be required for construction of an ADU within the Lakeside District due to the smaller lot sizes and concerns about adequate septic and setbacks.
Mrs. Sims asked the board for their thoughts on this recommendation regarding the requirement for the Conditional Use Permit within the Lakeside District and whether or not decision-making or review of ADU applications should stay with the ZBA or fall within PB jurisdiction. She offered to research further what criteria exist for Planning Board’s use of this permit since the Harrisville Planning Board has not had this option in the past.
Mr. Miner asked why a Conditional Use Permit would be required only in the Lakeside District and Mrs. Sims responded because there is more potential there for something not being able to fit, or for a zoning violation, requiring either a Special Exception or a Variance. Mr. Miner further asked why a Conditional Use Permit would be required if an applicant would already have to go before the ZBA or through the Building Inspector first. He wondered if this is an unnecessary additional hoop. Mr. Tryba offered that PB review would allow for a different perspective in terms of overall appropriateness and within the larger scope of fit for the district, whereas the issues of compliance with the zoning ordinance and environmental issues would be dealt with by the ZBA and through the Building Permit process. Mr. Miner further asked if, in the case where a footprint would be changed, would the applicant still have to go before the ZBA. Mrs. Sims responded that the way the Housing Committee recommends the town’s ADU be written, a Conditional Use Permit would cover it and bypass the ZBA requirement.
Concerning detached ADUs, Mrs. Sims stated that the new law does not permit them so the Housing Committee asks the Planning Board what would be acceptable and should all ADUs, attached and detached, fall within the jurisdiction of the Planning Board. There was consensus for attached and detached ADUs to be treated in the same way, requiring the same approval process. Sherry Sims asked if there would have to be a requirement for lot size or if setback requirements would handle that issue and the group agreed setback requirements would take care of that.
There was a general consensus among the group regarding the proposed Conditional Use Permit language for the Lakeside District and the proposed jurisdiction over ADUs within the Planning Board.
Mr. Miner expressed concern about confusion with the requirement for a Conditional Use Permit for an ADU but not for a deck or some other proposed construction, in light of the confusion surrounding existing requirements to appear before the town’s various boards.
Mrs. Sims clarified the difference that an ADU pertains to a dwelling unit. Mr. Tryba added that the situations are different in that the ZBA deals with what is not allowed by ordinance, while ADUs deal with what is allowed but requires review. Mr. Hulbert stated that the discussion suggests the need to reframe the principles the Planning Board is attempting to make clear to applicants.
Discussion ensued regarding specific requirements, such as proposed language regarding exterior staircases, if the PB can and should regulate esthetics, and whether or not waivers could be permitted. Mrs. Sims asked board members to email her with any other suggestions or comments on the proposed language so that the board could vote on it in November.
The question was raised regarding owner/occupancy and whether the proposed language was too restrictive. Mrs. Sims clarified that “primary residence” in this ADU ordinance refers to the larger of the two units not whether or not the property owner is a legal resident of the town. She further stated that the purpose of the ADU law isn’t only to create more affordable rental housing but also to accommodate a certain population. Mr. Tryba read from the state law that a municipality “may require owner/occupancy,” not must. A few of the members raised concerns about the restriction. Discussion ensued regarding the nature of owner/occupancy and whether or not less restrictive language could allow for developers or absentee landlords whose properties could change the current housing environment and landscape. Mr. Hulbert stated he felt the purpose of the language in the state law was to allow towns to maintain a certain kind of control over their own development.
Mr. Miner asked about the proposed restriction that an ADU “shall not exceed 1,000 square feet.” Mr. Hulbert, Mrs. Sims and Mrs. Cox all replied that the purpose was to prevent the accessory dwelling from being oversized and out of proportion and that it was based on the footprint of a typical 2-car garage. To Jon Miner’s question if the PB felt the need to restrict size, Mrs. Sims responded yes because otherwise someone could build something large and that wasn’t the purpose of the ADU law. Anne Howe added this was a scenario in which you’d want to have a board assess a site and establish a range of reasonable square footage depending on the site and that she would encourage a law that would allow some flexibility. Mr. Tryba suggested allowing a certain percentage of the main dwelling.
Mrs. Sims offered to send a memo to the Conservation Commission inviting their attention to the ADU matter.
The next point involved duplexes, currently allowed in the village and in the Commercial and Industrial districts. Mrs. Sims stated the Housing Committee was split on their thinking. She asked the PB if the town’s Zoning Ordinances should state that duplexes are also allowed in Residential and Agricultural District. If so, should they include language about lot size, require owner/occupancy, include parking restrictions and/or require a vegetative buffer?
Mrs. Sims summarized that on the “pro” side of allowing duplexes, according to the Housing Committee, was the ability to allow such dwellings on larger lots, as long as they met all the zoning requirements, to provide more affordable housing options, and more living options in general, and that it could be in the rural area thus managing sprawl. Anne Howe argued for very site-specific language allowing for the variation in terrain on different lots. The “cons,” Mrs. Sims stated, were aesthetics and need for suitability to site/terrain.
There was agreement among members about allowing duplexes in the Residential and Agricultural district as long as the esthetic and other requirements were met, including owner-occupancy. Desire was expressed for the ability of the PB to prevent oversized development and absentee landlords, to maintain the cultural intimacy of the town, and to protect the reasons people desire to live in the town. The group agreed to discuss this aspect further at the next meeting and to consider the concepts of vegetative buffers and whether to maintain the cultural context of the town. The group expressed consensus on a 2-acre minimum requirement, not four acres.
On the subject of Multiple Family structures and whether or not they should be allowed in the Residential and Agricultural District, views were mixed, as they were among the Housing Committee. Some members raised concerns about its potential to change the character and culture of the town, while others felt it would allow for more affordable housing and density without sprawl and that it could make sense depending on the site and the nature of the structure proposed. Mr. Hulbert stated that it could make sense in keeping with having a continuum of options given the right criteria and requirements to preserve the character and culture and quality of life in the town. The leaning of the Board was not to allow multi-family structures but a final recommendation will come at the November 9 meeting.
Conservation Subdivision Ordinance (for lots over 9 acres).
Mrs. Sims discussed the Housing Committee’s proposal of one specific change to the ordinance, whether the PB wants to permit a conservation subdivision on a lot between 5 and 9 acres in size. Such permission would allow for clustering, increasing density and reducing infrastructure costs. The Housing Committee liked Marlborough’s Conservation Subdivision Ordinance and thus recommends adopting their language on calculating maximum density. The board reached the general consensus that the Conservation Subdivision Ordinance gives the PB leeway and that the language in the town’s existing ordinance should be simplified regarding the maximum density formula in the same vein as the Town of Marlborough’s. Mr. Miner offered to send comments before next week on proposed language that could be less limiting.
Before adjournment, a question was raised about Mr. Maneval’s work on proposed changes to the zoning ordinances. Mrs. Sims responded that it was a private initiative and not work that was authorized by the Planning Board. She also stated her concern that, given its comprehensive nature, the proposal would be too rushed for the timing of the town meeting.
Aquifer Protection Ordinance
Mr. Hulbert stated he will follow up with Mr. Thayer and meet with the ConCom to get a sense of their goals and the PB’s on this issue. This is preliminary work with the objective of developing something substantive for the spring. Mr. Hulbert will attend the meeting but, once specifications are established, will withdraw thereafter because of too full a workload. Mrs. Sims suggested structuring the work the same way the Housing Committee was set up, having some board members working with some members of the community.
Master Plan Sub-Committee prep for CIP talk with Selectboard
Mr. Hulbert stated that the sub-committee emailed board members a two-page document and hopes to get on the Selectboard agenda within a week or two. The subcommittee hopes to propose to the Selectboard its thoughts on how potential new long-term CIP investments, those not related to atandard infrastructure and equipment, may or may not be funded. The subcommittee has put additional work over the past year into two capital funding ideas, the broadband/cell issue and the walkability project, that were voted down last year but which it thinks are important for the future of the town. The question in the subcommittee’s mind is whether the town needs to put away money for these kinds of initiatives. Mr. Tryba added that much of what the subcommittee proposes is within the Master Plan and emphasized the importance of new investments for the future viability of the town. Subcommittee requests board members’ feedback on its thinking.
Complete Streets Meeting
Mr.Tryba updated the board, stating that Mari Brunner and Liz Kelly will be working with the town for next year, starting with a core committee. The first meeting is next week when it will lay out the plan for next year. The committee as of now includes Linda Willett, Andrea Polizos, Barbara Watkins, Andrew Maneval, Ned Hulbert, Sherry Sims, Heri Tryba, and Mary Day Mordecai.
Harrisville Community Conversations group updates:
Broadband/cell – Mr. Colony updated the board and stated that the group met this week and felt, given the size of the issue and the need for technical expertise, it could be more manageable if broken down into parts. Some thoughts included the possibility within the village district of having Historic Harrisville rather than the town fund the first feasibility study and the town could see how it could proceed based on the village’s experience. The broadband committee will meet again next week.
Regional Cooperation/School Board – Mr. Hulbert reiterated that he, Mrs. Sims and Mr.Tryba will meet with the school board on Monday, October 17. Mr.Miner to attend as well.
Gym –group meets Friday, October 14, to discuss next steps.
Community Activities – group meets Thursday, October 13, to discuss next steps.
The goal for the next Community Conversation Meeting is for a narrower scope and more focused conversation on one or two items.
Mr. Hulbert reminded the group that his term ends in April 2017 and that he would stay on as an alternate, help train new members and help with the transition of a new co-chair. He also would continue working on certain issues he’s involved in. He reiterated the need for the board to find new members and for members to forward any potential names to the co-chairs. Mrs. Sims stated she also is looking to ease out. Her term is up in 2018.
Cucchi lawsuit update
Mr. Hulbert will talk to the town attorney and provide a report next month. The attorney submitted his response to the lawsuit to the court; it is available for Board members to review.
Mrs. Sims and Mr. Hulbert will look at the website before next meeting to see which documents need to be updated and/or which are missing. The larger question of website maintenance is still a work in progress.
Annual PB Organization Assessment and Transition Discussion
For a 2-hour self-assessment, PB organization meeting and to discuss the PB’s strategy related to the transition the town is going through, the group will meet Wednesday, October 26, from 5:30-7:30.
Land Use Law Handbooks
Mrs. Sims will ask Angela Hendrickson to order 6 copies @ $10/copy.
Meeting adjourned: 9:15pm
The next regularly scheduled Planning Board meeting is Wednesday, November 9, 2016 at 7 p.m.