Planning Board and Zoning By-law Study Committee to Bring Building Height Amendment to Town Meeting

The Planning Board and Zoning By-law Study Committee are recommending changes to how the town defines building height.  At present the definition is based upon the highest point of finished grade. The two committees, with the unanimous support of the Selectmen and Finance Committee want to “ground” the maximum future building height to the present grade on the site. Town Meeting on May 7th is being asked to replace the existing definition of Building Height with the following:

BUILDING HEIGHT The vertical distance between the Average Natural Grade of the ground under the footprint of a building and the highest point of the building, including the roof, parapet, or other attached structure, but excluding the height of any chimney or residential television antenna.

Average Natural Grade shall be derived from the average elevation of the grade along the exterior of the building facing the front lot line and the average elevation of the grade along the exterior of the building facing the rear lot line or, for a through lot, the other front lot line in existence as of May 7, 2013. For corner lots, the front lot line shall be the street from which the property gains its address and the rear lot line shall be the boundary opposite the front lot line. Building heights shall be measured from the higher of Average Natural Grade or Base Flood Elevation for properties located in the FEMA established Velocity and 1% Annual Chance Floodplain.

This proposal will protect existing property values. Quite some time ago I wrote about the use of “dirt skirts” to artificially increase the height of structures, Building Height – It Could Happen Here.  The use of excess fill create situations where one home in a neighborhood towers over its neighbors. It also provides opportunities to effectively create 3 1/2 story homes by partially burying one level in fill.

The proposal also addresses issues that properties in flood zones face, specifically possibly losing floor space if they construct to base flood elevation. We see many projects that seek to stay under modification values that mandate meeting flood protection standards. By measuring building height in regulated flood areas from Base Flood Elevation these properties are not disadvantaged due to location.

Concerns have been raised about properties located “in a hole.” Topography is one of the tests in the Zoning Act that justifies a variance. This land formation situation is going to be the exception in town rather than the rule. An appearance before the Zoning Board of Appeals allows a board to review the conditions on such a parcel and determine whether relief is necessary. this provides the town with far more protection than current zoning which allows virtually unlimited fill.


The photo above illustrates a house built on fill. Notice its height in relation to the roof-line located behind it.

The images below illustrate how building height will relate to existing grade under the proposed zoning.










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