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.