SANDOWN – The planning board decided to pull back a zoning amendment that sought to clarify and expand the existing rules on home businesses/occupations following the input of a couple of residents.
The drive to amend the ordinance came from a suggestion last year by planning board and Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) member Steve Meisner, who was concerned with the number of residents who have sought variances from the existing ordinance for what he deemed minor deviations.
The board has been discussing the changes over the past few meetings, getting suggestions from town engineer Steve Keach. But at its public hearing Tuesday, Jan. 7, the board decided the proposal wasn’t ready.
Starting the hearing was Meisner, who had questions about a list of allowable businesses, but spurring the discussion that led to the decision to hold back the ordinance were concerns from residents Brian and Cynthia St. Amand.
The St. Amands pointed to several areas, often stating that they did not want other residents to have to go through what they went through in their neighborhood with a home business that they think broke the rules and expanded beyond what was appropriate for a residential area.
The St. Amands referred to – without names – issues they had with neighbor Cathie Ryder and her Yogamatters studio, a matter that has made the rounds of town boards in recent years.
Planning board member Matt Brown pointed out that if a resident is willing to sidestep the law, what is in the law wasn’t of much import. Chair Mark Traeger echoed that thought, stating that the planning board does its best to write clear, fair ordinances, but whether a resident is going to ignore them shouldn’t be the driving force behind writing them.
The St. Amands noted concerns with signage, how many square feet were allowed and how well the businesses would be policed. They agreed that they preferred the existing ordinance, even with its flaws.
One suggestion that gained steam among board members was the problem the St. Clairs had with traffic. Members suggested that section of the ordinance could be more stringent, and that home businesses shouldn’t be allowed on streets with cul-de-sacs, as the increase in traffic has a much larger impact than on a through street like Fremont Road. And Traeger suggested putting in a stipulation about how much traffic can increase over average daily trips for a neighborhood.
Meisner said anecdotally that when home businesses cause a problem among neighbors, it’s usually because of traffic concerns, but suggested that the board could look for data on that point.
Throughout the discussion, planning board member Ed Mencis interjected that he did not like to take rights away from people, or “abrogate” them, but he did not specify whose rights were being infringed upon. Meisner said all ordinances were abridging the freedoms of someone but they were accepted for the other good they did.
Meisner spoke about how the work that goes into creating a home business ordinance should seek a balance between business owner and neighbor, but noted it wasn’t an easy task to make sure all were pleased.
“No matter what you put down, you’re going to infringe upon someone,” said Meisner, noting concern that home businesses have the ability to change the character of a neighborhood. “It’s a tough balance.”
Meisner also suggested creating areas of special exceptions in the ordinance, a move that would force some to go to a public hearing process and allow neighbors fair warning and a chance to weigh in.
The board decided not to move the amendment to the warrant and instead to revisit it next year when it could be reviewed in more depth.
An amendment on driveway permits was forwarded to the warrant after its own public hearing that same evening. This amendment indicates that a fee for driveway permits is determined by the board of selectmen, and is the result of a failed article last year that sought to set the fee at a specific amount.