Proposal For Garage Conversion At Strong and East Pleasant Streets Withdrawn

Garage at corner of Strong Street and East Pleasant Street where a conversion to two apartments has been proposed. Photo: Hilda Greenbaum

Report On The Meeting Of The Zoning Board of Appeals, March 25, 2021

The meeting was held via Zoom and was recorded.

Participating: Steve Judge (Chair), Keith Langsdale, Tammy Parks, Dillon Maxfield, Associate Member Craig Meadows. Staff: Maureen Pollock (Planner) and Rob Morra (Building Commissioner)

The sole action item on the agenda was consideration of a proposal by the applicant, developer Neil Mendelsohn, to withdraw, without prejudice, their application for a special permit to convert a garage at 275 East Pleasant Street into two dwelling units housing as many as eight people. The meeting consisted of a Public Hearing and Public Meeting , with the Hearing being a continuation of a Public Hearing from February 11, 2021. . For additional reporting on this original application, look here. The ZBA voted 4-1 to allow the developer to withdraw his application without prejudice.

Background
The original application to the ZBA was for the conversion of a pre-1964 garage into two dwelling units on a lot that is non-conforming as to area and setback. The lot area is less than 16,000 square feet (but 26,000 is required for the two dwelling units), and there is insufficient setback from both East Pleasant Street and Strong Street. The ZBA was asked to make the finding that this conversion to rental housing would not be significantly more detrimental to the neighborhood than its current use as a garage for parking and storage, along with usual findings for compliance with Section 10.38 of the bylaw.

On February 27, 2021, the developer wrote to the ZBA with a request to withdraw his application for a special permit without prejudice, meaning that he would be free to resubmit his application at a time of his choosing.

The Hearing
In advance of this Public Hearing, the committee had received two written public comments from neighbors opposing the project: one from Stephen Schreiber and one from Ray LaRaja.  The comments were referred to during the discussions but were not read aloud. The LaRaja comment was a memorandum signed by 10 neighbors, and asked that the request by the developer to withdraw be granted with prejudice, meaning that the developer could not resubmit his application in the future.

At the Public Hearing, ZBA member Dillon Maxfield asked Mendelsohn why he wanted to withdraw his proposal. Mendelsohn replied that he and his wife thought that their project was useful and achievable, but that the opposition was just too great, making completion impossible at the moment. He noted that the growing expenses associated with addressing ZBA concerns are more than they can take on right now.

Following a brief discussion of the options available to the Board and which might be best for Mendelsohn, the Pubic Hearing was adjourned. The Board Proceeded with its regular meeting to deliberate these options.

Five options were apparent:

  1.  The board could grant Mendelsohn’s request to withdraw without prejudice. This would allow him to bring this proposal, or an improved proposal that addressed concerns raised by the board, back before the ZBA at a time of his choosing.
  2. The board could withdraw Mendelsohn’s request with prejudice, meaning that he could not bring this proposal back again.
  3. The board could reject Mendelsohn’s request to withdraw and proceed to either vote on it (see below) or to raise additional questions.
  4. The board could accept the project as proposed, based on the information in hand and then impose conditions to be met before the project could move forward.
  5. The board could reject the project as proposed.

The Discussion
Maxfield proposed that the board already has enough information to make a decision on the application for a special permit and should therefore deny the petition to withdraw and instead decide based on the merits of the project. Langsdale agreed.

Parks said that she would like more information before she is ready to vote. She said she needs to know more about the management plan and how it would work with a resident manager. She had concerns about the number of people who would reside on the property. Eight seemed like a lot to her. She was concerned about the non-permeable surface on the parking area. And she was concerned that the main house was unfinished.

Meadows referred to Schreiber’s public comment suggesting that an architect should be consulted, and said that if an architect is needed the ZBA should not dismiss the proposal until “we are sure that we have everything we need.”  Parks agreed that this ought to be looked into. 

Judge said that he had many unresolved concerns. Like Parks, he was concerned about the number of people who would reside on the property. Eight also seemed excessive to him. And he was concerned about the impacts of the conversion on the neighborhood. In addition, he said that a more complete set of drawings and additional input are needed. He noted that the additional information needed would likely entail more time and cost for the applicant and that allowing the applicant to withdraw now without prejudice would allow him to come back at any time with a better, more complete proposal. Judge said that although neighbors have requested a denial with prejudice, this option  should be reserved for malicious applications, which, he believed,  was not the case here. He concluded that he supported the motion to withdraw without prejudice.

Langsdale said that the ZBA should hear what the applicant desires to do with this application but he also has a right to hear the disposition of the board toward his project and this has not yet happened. He said that the applicant deserves ZBA’s input and hence “we ought to have a conclusive discussion about the project and then we should ask the applicant whether he would like to proceed or not.”

Pollock pointed out that the applicant had not yet submitted all of the required documents to the Town. Judge said that “it looks as if the applicant looked at what was additionally required and determined that this would be too onerous and is opting to withdraw.”

Parks said that she is not comfortable with the project right now, but is not certain what else she would need to be comfortable. In other words, she is not ready to move forward with it.

Judge concluded that withdrawal without prejudice gives ZBA the “cleanest slate” in that it allows the applicant to withdraw and leaves him the option of coming back when he is ready to address the concerns that have been raised. 

A Motion to allow the applicant to withdraw his application without prejudice then passed 4-1 with Langsdale dissenting.

Public Comment
During the subsequent public comment, Richard Roznoy, an abutter, claimed to have been misrepresented by Maxfield during the preceding discussion, concerning his position on the application. He demanded an opportunity to respond. Judge ruled him out of order, noting that public comment at ZBA meetings may not address issues on that evening’s agenda, except during the Public Hearing.

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