Zoning Board of Adjustment
Meeting Minutes
Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Harrisville Zoning Board of Adjustment held a regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 at 7:00 pm at the Town Offices, 705 Chesham Road.

Members present: Hal Grant, Chairman; Patrick Gagne; Andrew Maneval, Alternate; Pegg Monahan, Alternate; Mary Ann Noyer, Alternate
Members absent: Charles Sorenson, Vice Chairman; Rex Baker; Jeffrey Trudelle; Jay Jacobs, Select Board Representative
Members of the public: Edward Tibbetts; Sarah Tibbets; Ted Pearre; Wendy Pearre;  Barbara Watkins

The meeting opened at 7:08 pm. The Chair introduced the following matter:

Skyfield Trust, 19 Morse Road (Map 30 – Lot 3) applying for a Special Exception under Articles 4.1.6 and 5.2.2 to replace an existing 1.75-story, converted barn of approximately 3,251 square feet with a new 1.75-story dwelling of approximately 3,570 square feet, on approximately the same footprint.

Ed Tibbets, authorized representative, spoke on behalf of the owners. He explained that the existing 128-acre parcel has multiple dwellings, which predate the zoning ordinances. With more family members desiring to spend increasing time in Harrisville, the applicants propose to renovate the barn, the subject structure in the application, in need of significant repair and investment. The application is to convert the barn into two, three-bedroom units, for expanded and simultaneous family use.

In response to Andrew Maneval’s question about why the square footage stated in the application was roughly 300 square feet more than the existing square footage, if the structure was to remain in approximately the same footprint, Mr. Tibbets explained that he had rounded up the proposed dimensions in his estimated calculations, for purposes of simplification. He noted that final building plans are still in the conceptual stage. Mr. Maneval then asked the applicant if the proposed structure would contain interior access between the units. Mr. Tibbets responded yes, through the two closets, as it is intended for long term family use only.

Pegg Monahan asked if the existing layout was a duplex and Mr. Tibbets responded yes and no, in that the sleeping space was on one side of the barn and a great room with loft and bathroom were on the other, but Mr. Maneval noted this couldn’t be called a duplex as there were not an interior divider that completely separates the areas, and it’s not constructed for complete dwelling use on both sides.

Mr. Maneval then asked to address and make part of the record Charles Sorenson’s written questions, submitted to the public file in the previous week. Mr. Sorenson was concerned that “the application calls for replacing and expanding an existing duplex under 5.3.”  The questions “relate to: 1) the fact that the application description does not say the property is a duplex” (Mr. Maneval noted the board had determined it isn’t); “2) the tax card does not list it as a duplex” (no issue here); “if it is a duplex, when did it become one?” (Mr. Maneval reiterated that it isn’t one); “if it’s an illegal duplex it shouldn’t be covered under 5.3.” (Mr. Maneval stated it wasn’t an illegal duplex or a duplex at all); “and, if so, a variance would be required”. Mr. Maneval stated he didn’t believe the particular circumstances described by Mr. Sorenson fit the circumstances of the application.

Mr. Maneval then read aloud the definition of duplex under the existing zoning ordinances, as follows: A structure on a single lot containing two dwelling units, each of which is totally separated from the other by an unpierced wall extending from ground to roof, or an unpierced ceiling and floor extending from exterior wall to exterior wall except for a common stairwell to both dwelling units. Comments then turned to the potential relevance of articles 5.2.2 and 5.3.3, changes to or expansion of non-conforming uses and non-conforming structures respectively. The question hinged on whether or not the proposed structure, though it might appear and act like a duplex, could be considered one under the strict definition of duplex in the town ordinances. Mr. Maneval stated that whether or not this was a duplex was the first determination the board needed to make. He added that the key issue was definitive demonstration by the applicant that the interior wall offered access between the spaces. The applicant confirmed that this was so, and they were not proposing a duplex. The only other matter to address was whether or not the small change in footprint was relevant.

Separately, when asked whether or not this was an accessory dwelling unit, Mr. Maneval responded that he didn’t believe this applied, as long as the existing and proposed uses of the structure were similar and that nothing was being added. Returning to the slight change in footprint, the applicant offered that, given that the non-conformity in this instance was the multiple dwellings on the lot, and not the square footage of these, that he didn’t believe it was material. He further confirmed that they intended, if needed, to have the septic modified or improved as required by the building permit process.

Barbara Watkins spoke in favor of the applicant’s proposal, noting it is in keeping with the character of the neighborhood and is pre-existing. Hal Grant noted two other letters in support. Ted Pearre echoed Ms. Watkins’s comments.

The applicant then responded to Pegg Monahan’s questions regarding the proposed design, explaining that a foundation would be set, and energy efficient improvements would be made to the 60 x 34 structure, which was the former carriage house. Garage space would be in the back, where the existing ice house lies, and essentially the same size. Members noted that the structure was well within the setback requirements. The applicant confirmed it is 200’ from the nearest water source and 185’ from the road.

Mr. Maneval returned to the language in the application, which requests replacing the existing dwelling with “two three-bedroom dwellings”. He then referred to the different descriptions of dwellings and language addressing single family, multiple family and multi-family, as outlined in provisions in the commercial and residential sections of the zoning ordinances.  Mr. Maneval believed the board need not necessarily call the proposed structure a “multi-family residence” and that the terms are unclear as far as definitions of dwelling and the commercial and residential district prohibitions. He asked the minutes to reflect that the board considered the definition of multiple family dwellings, defined further under “dwelling units.” The board also examined the definition of duplex. The board concluded that what was proposed for the subject property was none of the things prohibited in a residential district. Mr. Maneval didn’t believe even a Special Exception was required, but was a matter of Building Inspector review only. He reiterated that the use wasn’t changing or expanding.

To be on the safe side, however, the idea that there could be two families using it could call for the Special Exception review. The board felt more comfortable with this approach. Mr. Grant read aloud Article 5.2.2, noting what the petitioner must prove to the board, and referred to Article XX, which outlines the conditions for a board’s granting of a Special Exception. Subsequently,Mr. Maneval moved that the board take under consideration the criteria for granting a Special Exception under Article 5.2.2. Patrick Gagne seconded.Mr. Grant read the provisions as follows: The specific site is an appropriate location for such use. The board unanimously agreed. The use as developed will not adversely affect the adjacent area. The board unanimously agreed. There will be no nuisance or serious hazard to vehicles or pedestrians. The board unanimously agreed. Adequate and appropriate facilities will be provided for the proper operation of the proposed use. The board unanimously agreed, reiterating that the applicant would pursue the necessary DES and building permit requirements. The proposed use shall comply with all the frontage, setbacks, minimum land area, sanitary protection, signs, and parking requirements for itself or its most similar use, except where specifically waived by the board, the reasons for such waiver to be set forth in writing by the board.The board unanimously agreed and noted that no waivers were required.

Finally, the board returned to the condition outlined in Article 5.2.2 that the petitioner must prove to the satisfaction of the board that the proposed change in, or expansion of, the existing non-conforming use will not be more harmful or detrimental than the existing non-conforming use. The members unanimously agreed it would not be.  Upon this determination and a vote called for by the Chair, members unanimously voted in favor of Mr. Maneval’s motion to grant the Special Exception.

As a final matter, the board moved and voted in favor to approve the meeting minutes of November 20, 2019. 

The meeting adjourned at 8:00 pm.