CHESTER – For the third time, the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) has denied requests from Roger Garrett that would allow him to build a home on an undersized and wet lot at the intersection of Birch and Candia Roads.
The ZBA has been hearing and rehearing the requests for a three-bedroom home on a 1.25 acre lot for two years, most recently denying a special exception and four variance requests in January.
Garrett has been seeking a special exception for a single family home and septic system that does not meet requirements of the wetlands conservation district, as well as four variances: for a septic system within the 40-foot front setback, the construction of a well within 100 feet of the septic, building on less than two acres and because the lot could not accommodate a 200-foot-diameter circle.
This time around, the board granted a rehearing because of a slightly changed plan and heard the matter over the course of two meetings, with input from engineer Eric Mitchell, attorneys from the office of Cronin, Bisson and Zalinsky, and the Chester conservation commission.
At their meeting on Tuesday, June 17, ZBA members turned down all requests but one variance under the same justification they have in the past: that a house on site could be detrimental to health and safety because of the wetlands and that the number and scope of requests ran afoul of the spirit of the rules and regulations the townspeople voted on to protect their town.
Though Mitchell asked the board to pay attention to the last two paragraphs of a letter from the conservation commission that in his eyes was tacit approval of the plan, looking at the letter in its totality led ZBA members to see a different picture. The last two paragraphs are largely boiler plate from the commission, noting that it is the ZBA’s right to draw its own conclusions and rule on matters before them, that that the plan meets certain rules and regulations and that if properly installed and maintained, the septic system would not significantly degrade the local hydrology.
Earlier paragraphs, however, note concern with standing water on site, proximity of wetlands and the potential for future owners to change the site or not maintain mitigation systems for runoff and have an impact on the property and its surroundings.
After meeting with representatives from the commission, Mitchell added safeguards into the plans to quell runoff into the adjacent wetlands, and included the planting of Atlantic white cedar trees to mitigate standing water on site.
Mitchell emphasized that the plan met all of the state’s requirements and in the eyes of state law was a buildable lot. ZBA chair Billie Maloney pointed to the fact that Chester’s rules are more stringent than the state’s, as is the townspeople’s right.
When the discussion centered on the state’s rules and regulations, member Kevin Scott pointed out that maybe the state should sign off on the plan as he, as a Chester gatekeeper, wasn’t sure he was comfortable doing so.
Member Cass Buckley pointed out that while the state may have approved the septic plan, he thinks it was not a de facto approval for the site. Mitchell said the state approved the septic plan and had no issues with setbacks and thus would see the lot as buildable.
Abutter Steph Landau spoke against the plan, saying that after two years and previous denials, he didn’t see much changed in the new proposal. He argued that the lot was only categorized as an independent lot because of the whim of a mapmaker years ago and that approval was inviting future problems for those who would buy the house.
“This is getting a little ridiculous. It meets one criteria. One. Which is frontage, because it happens to be on two different roads,” said Landau.
Mitchell said that while he concurred the lot wasn’t ideal, that didn’t prevent it from being buildable.
After unanimously denying the special exception, representation from Garrett asked that the variances also be taken up, because though the special exception was in essence a denial of the entire plan, in case there is a rehearing, they wanted the variances out of the way. All were denied but the one that asked for a variance of the 200-foot-diameter circle requirement.
Scott was often echoed by fellow board members as he clearly summed up concerns with the property, noting that asking for four variances was not in keeping with the spirit of the ordinance.
Buckley and member Jean Methot said the plan was asking the town to waive almost every dimensional requirement it had and as such, they were not comfortable with any of the variances.
“It’s almost the entire book,” Buckley said.
Later Scott noted that despite Garrett’s attorney, John Cronin, stating that it is not in the purview of the board to be concerned with future buyers, he disagreed. “I completely disagree. We don’t invite people into Chester on a buyer beware basis,” he said.