Site Plan Review

Recently questions have arisen regarding Site Plan Review, or lack there-of, for the Heritage Sands project.  A resident of town, who has experience on a Planning Board in another town, has repeatedly been critical of the lack of a Site Plan Approval for this project. An equivalent example of a possibly significant change in use that did not trigger any Site Plan Review was the new urgent care center in the former Pizza Hut building.

The discussion provides an opportunity to highlight shortcomings in the Dennis Site Plan Review By-law, shortcomings which have been brought to the attention of the Dennis Planning Board. Our Site Plan Review and Approval process is triggered by an increase in parking demand of five spaces over existing demand. This captures a very small portion of redevelopment or site re-use. Not too long ago it was even more permissive, only kicking in if existing parking on a site had to be increased by five or more over what existed. This provision allowed significant flexibility in changes being made to properties originally constructed with excess parking.

At the Planning Board Meeting, the night testimony was taken on Heritage Sands, we had several projects that, with minor adjustments, all could have avoided Site Plan Approval. This is something that has concerned me for several years and that I have raised in the past with the Zoning By-law Study Committee (the last time in 2007). I have now brought this to the Planning Board itself for discussion.

The Dennis Zoning By-law states:

“Section 4.1.2 applies to the construction of new buildings and changes of use or expansions of existing buildings which create a demand for a total of five or more parking spaces pursuant to Section 3.1 of this bylaw over the parking demand for the existing floor space and/or said use of the existing floor space, regardless of the number of parking spaces actually physically provided on the site….”

Had Cumberland Farms not had the gasoline station which triggers a Special Permit consideration, argument could be made that it did not have to be before the Planning Board as it reduced the demand for parking. In fact, one could even have questioned whether the relocation of the gasoline pumps would have triggered a Special Permit had they not increased the number of pumps.

Similarly, the former Christine’s property redevelopment only triggered Site Plan Review due to the new floor space being added which increased parking requirements. Had the floor space remained the same as today, the changes in the use of the property, which would have a significant change in traffic patterns, would have reduced site parking.

Finally, Heritage Sands reduces required parking from 159 spaces to 63 spaces, and therefor did not trigger a mandatory Site Plan Review under the current zoning. Some abutters were taken aback by the fact that a Planning Board hearing and vote was not required for this project. This is a consequence of the current triggers in the Dennis Zoning By-law for Site Plan Review noted above.

Back in the early 2000’s I had suggested the Zoning By-law Study Committee modify the standards for Site Plan Review. First I had suggested they use floor area, whether new construction or change of use, to trigger Site Plan Review. Later, in 2007, I had suggested they propose an approach consistent with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office model Site Plan Review By-law. I even crafted a proposed amendment for their consideration. The proposal never got off the ground. Now that I can cite some clear examples where a change in Site Plans could have avoided Planning Board involvement in project review, I hope the Board can see the benefit of making some changes.

The Dennisport resident who questioned the lack of a Site Plan Review requirement for Heritage Sands comes from a community with a very inclusive Site Plan Review standard:

3110. Applicability. The following types of activities and uses require site plan review by the Planning Board:

3111. Construction, exterior alteration or exterior expansion or change of use of a municipal, institutional, commercial, industrial, or multi-family structure;

3112. Construction or expansion of a parking lot for a municipal, institutional, commercial, industrial, or multi-family structure;

3113. Grading, clearing, or other land development activity except for the following: work in an Agricultural-Residential District, landscaping on a lot with an existing dwelling, clearing necessary for percolation and other site tests, work incidental to agricultural activity, or work in conjunction with a approved subdivision plan or earth removal permit.

This by-law would clearly have required a Site Plan Review for Heritage Sands and is the direction I would like to see Dennis to move towards.

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12 thoughts on “Site Plan Review

  1. William Sinclair

    It is with great pleasure to finally get a response from you dan!! I must question the lack of participation to the citizens concerns on this project.If you or the planning board claim that a large development, that clearly has a large change of use does not trigger site plan review, then i guess, you might want to have address this problem before you worked so hard with heritage sands on the SRC bylaw. This is not the way to address our concerns for the town of dennis residents. What would hurt to at least look t the proposal, listen, To the citizens concerns and address them at a public meeting of the planning board?

  2. Daniel Fortier Post author

    Actually Mr. Sinclair, your questions have never been directly asked of my office. If they had, I would have gone over the Site Plan Review by-law with you, as well as the project’s public review that did occur. The Planning Board did hold a public meeting on Heritage Sands, noticed in the newspaper and mailed out to abutters just like a public hearing would have been. Testimony was taken, only the Board did not take a vote on the project. Many of your neighbors were at this meeting. You can find the minutes of the meeting here, and the video here and here. We did have some confusion over whether it was appropriate to receive testimony on an issue that was not a public hearing, but testimony was taken.

    As to the Site Plan Review Process. When I arrived in Dennis I flagged this as an issue for the Zoning By-law Study Committee and the Planning Board. While they accepted minor changes that dealt with demand for parking versus parking supply to trigger a Site Plan Review, they did not want to make the type of changes that I felt were necessary. The committees essentially wanted to take a virtually hands off approach to redevelopment at that time. Hopefully, the hubbub around Heritage Sands and the new Urgent Care Center will highlight the reason I recommended changes to begin with. However, the SRC zoning and the concept of Site Plan Review for redevelopment, which is occurring through-out town, should not be linked. Site Plan Review is a town-wide issue. The town may choose not to make any changes, that is up to town meeting. I will urge the committees to make changes, I think they understand where I have been coming from now, but there is no guarantee that the town will ultimately want to give the Planning Board more control than they currently have.

  3. George v. Milios

    Hi Dan, my name is George Milios, and my wife Julie and I own a cottage on 14 Grindell. To our knowledge, we had never received any abutter mailings in regards to any hearings on the issue. That said, we do take great pride in democracy and having the people heard.

    Is it then too much to ask that the outstanding concerns of the public be respected? We need folks to work together to resolve these concerns. I ask for your office to show the public that we do count in the process, and hope that you will give the public a voice in this.

    I do support development of the land, however I more so support the right for myself and my fellow abutters and citizens to be heard. With great respect, George Milios.

  4. Daniel Fortier Post author

    Mr Milios, your house is 436 feet away from the Heritage Sands property, about as far away as Mr. Sinclair. Neither of you are required to be notified of the meeting by mail as you are beyond 300 feet from the project site. The meeting was advertised in The Register, twice.

    Generally, when a project is seeking a Special Permit, the notification requirement in Chapter 40A calls for notifying abutters and abutters to abutters who are located within 300 feet of a project. We go a step further and notify everyone within the 300 foot radius of the property even if they are beyond the two-property deep requirement of Chapter 40A. We follow this notification standard for Site Plan Review although there is no state standard for such reviews.

    In fact, Site Plan Review is not a part of Chapter 40A at all. It is grey area of Zoning. To date no town has been precluded from conducting such a review of “by-right” development but the Zoning Act also does not authorize such a review. As long as local Site Plan Review recognizes the proposal cannot be denied and concerns raised are specifically related to zoning matters towns have not had this review taken away from them.

    The Planning Board conducted a public review of this project, even though the project was not required, under Dennis Zoning, to be subject to a Site Plan Review. As I have mentioned, the public had an opportunity to be heard. The links in my response to Mr. Sinclair will provide you with the opportunity to review both the minutes of the meeting as well as the video of the meeting itself. The video clearly will show you the public was provided an opportunity to comment on the project.

  5. william sinclair

    Hi dan, its Mr sinclair, it is with great pleasure that you can defend your actions.. all i request is that we have due process. you , with all your experience, must admit their is a lot of things that are not being discussed. why do you continue not to allow us to be heard? all we want is to be included…. as far as both you and me agreeing to disagree on the process, i can move on with that. you state that the zoning bylaw does not allow for a site plan review, i find this as an interpetation of the bylaw by you, and i see it different. can you explain what is the problem with having the citizens comment on this process. at the april 2, 2012 meeting of the planning board, you stated over 5 times, that when heritage sands had plans, the citizens would have their time for coment at a site ollan review, your chairman also assured that we would have this process. why all of a sudden , it does not meet the standard? would you please contact me to discuss this as perfessionals !!! I only want what is right. i can be reached at sinclairelectric.ws@gmail.com . thank you for your time.

  6. Daniel Fortier Post author

    The Planning Board reviewed the proposal on November 5, 2012, public notice was given both by mail to those within 300 feet (you are located over 400 feet from the site) and published in the newspaper for two consecutive weeks. Public comment was received in writing and verbally. Planning Board commented on the plan and gave advice. The only thing that did not occur was a vote to approve a Site Plan as this was beyond the scope of the authority of the Dennis Planning Board under the Dennis Zoning By-law. Based upon their comments during the meeting there would have been support for the project had a vote occurred. I believe that the Board met its obligation, the applicant went beyond its obligation under zoning and lived up to promises made during many months of discussion.

    In addition to required notification I posted on the Blog on October 23rd about the upcoming hearing, and on October 24th I posted some of the plans.

    Feel free to send me your phone number at my town email address dfortier@town.dennis.ma.us and I will give you a call on Monday.

  7. George v. Milios

    Dan, I just wanted to take a moment and thank you for listening to our concerns. We do have deeded beach rights at the site, and found it unimaginable that those with rights, though over the 300 foot threshold, would not be notified of a project to this magnitude. If its a newspaper notification we missed, as we are seasonal, and that is the way it’s spelled out, we have to accept that. I finally wanted to state that the folks in our area simply want to be heard. Myself and my wife support this, and hope that due procees is considered for our neighbors as well as to the developers. We are eached owed the same. We realize nothing is easy but we are hoping some common ground will be found, so that we are all mutually satisfied at the end of the day. Thank You for your time, George and Julie Milios, 14 Grindell.

  8. Daniel Fortier Post author

    George, notice goes to property owners. However, the easement area has always been on my radar screen. Getting everything out of the easement area, and having a formal walkway will improve everyone’s access.

  9. Raymond Campbell

    Raymond Campbell I have a “seasonal cottage” at 62 Old Wharf Rd. and traveled about 160 miles round trip hoping that some form of review was to take place concerning the impact that the proposed Heritage Sands development on my property. I was extremely disappointed that no such event took place. The issue was last on the agenda and although I was allowed to voice my objections that the main entrance is planned to be relocated directly across from me, I went away with the feeling that nobody was listening or cared!
    I’m concerned about noise ( a function room is planned for just inside the entrance as well as pool) the glare of headlights, the additional runoff contributing to flooding in an already poor drainage area, the access to the area required by fire and rescue apparatus and the fact that the entire project changes the character of the area. I feel that not enough discussion has been allowed to these changes I.E. safety, traffic, flooding and general hardship to the abutters and to the community as a whole.

  10. Daniel Fortier Post author

    Ray, your comments were heard by both the Board and the applicant. What you experienced is not atypical for a Public Hearing. The Boards ask for comment, they do not always directly respond to public comment. Generally, the applicant is asked to address the issues.

    A few responses:

    Stormwater is regulated by the Dennis Stormwater By-law which requires that the applicant control all stormwater on-site. This will result in a reduction in water flowing off the property.

    Traffic related to 63 cottages Willie significantly less than for the 144 rv’s and 15 cottages on the site in the past. Not only will there be less than half the seasonal units on the site, Institute of Traffic Engineers traffic generation rates are lower for seasonal cottages than for recreational vehicles. Peak travel period for these vehicles entering and exiting the property will be in the morning according to these rates. I will ‘re-post the traffic information from an earlier blog post later on this subject.

    I understand your concern regarding the clubhouse. The primary activity area for this facility faces the water and not your property. Noise from the property will be buffered by having the structure between the pool and patio and Old Wharf Road.

    Dennis Fire and Police have both reviewed the project on more than one occasion. Fire apparatus can maneuver the property without any problems. The site also provides improved emergency access to the water over existing conditions. No public safety issues have arisen during any of the staff reviews that have taken place on this project.

    The character of the structures was a large part of the discussions that occurred during the zoning process itself. During the rezoning, we removed two story commercial uses from this site as well as 2 1/2 story residential uses. Building heights were reduced to 25 feet from 35 feet and structures are kept to 1 1/2 stories. These changes were all part of trying to keep the new cottages in character with the surrounding neighborhood. The cottages will be significantly smaller than many of the homes on the westerly side of this site.

    Finally, I know that the property owner has met more than once with the neighbors since the Planning Board Meeting to continue the dialogue with neighbors. I understand the easement has been a big part of this discussion, I would lime to point out that private agreements, such as the easement, are outside of the regulatory reach of zoning. Outside of ensuring that the easement is not encroached upon, which may even be beyond our authority, there is no town involvement in private agreements.

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