Category Archives: Planning Board

From Park City Utah: Coffee talks to focus on planning and zoning

I did a little of this with Dennis Port and West Dennis, it might be time to revive these discussions around town.

Coffee talks to focus on planning and zoning


Zoning Amendment to Promote Reuse of Sand Pits for Solar

The Planning Board will be holding a Public Hearing on Monday October 5th on a proposal to allow commercial scale solar facilities as a reuse for sand pits located in Residential Zoning Districts.  At present, there are about 7 locations in Dennis where sand pits are operational, or have been abandoned in the R-40 zoning district. The proposal will allow these properties to be reused for solar.

Sand Pits are pre-existing non-conforming land uses in the residential areas. They are all so old that there are no reclamation requirements imposed on these properties. The goal of the zoning change, it to create a financial incentive to have these properties cleaned up when they are no longer productive, get a layer of top soil brought in, and have them at least seeded for grass to grow. The solar facilities will provide the economic incentive to not simply have them walked away from.

The proposed change is to add commercial scale solar as an option, by special permit of the Planning Board, for current and former sand pit properties of at least 2 1/2 acres in size. The amendment is below, the changes are in Bold Italic:

a) amend Section Use Regulation Schedule, Industrial, Utility and Other Uses Subsection 7.i Commercial Scale Solar Energy Electrical Generator:




Quivet Neck/Crowe’s Pasture

Resource Protection District














Area A


Area B

7. INDUSTRIAL, UTILITY AND OTHER USES                      
i. Commercial Scale Solar Energy Electrical Generator N except S* N N N N S S Y N N  

*  By Special Permit of the Planning Board for the purpose of reclaiming former sand pit properties of at least 2.5 acres in size.

Improvements to the Project Review Process

Tonight the technical review staff will be presenting to the Dennis Board of Selectmen changes recently adopted by the Planning Board to improve the project review process. The cornerstone of this process is the early involvement of the technical review staff in all projects going before the Planning Board.

Ideally, all applicants will request, before submitting an application to the Planning Board, to meet with the technical review staff. This will provide an opportunity for the applicant to get as much staff review as possible prior to starting the permitting process. However, should an applicant file with the Planning Board without going through the staff review process, the Planning Board’s recently adopted Rules and Regulations will direct applicants to meet with the staff and the Planning Board will coordinate its Public Hearing process with the ability of staff to fully vent site design issues.

In the end, the goal is to make the project review process as painless as possible for both the applicant and the Planning Board. To that end, a clearer set of plan submittal requirements have been attached to the Planning Board Special Permit and Site Plan Review Application. Soon, similar revisions to the Approval Not Required, Preliminary and Definitive Subdivision Applications will also be available.

These plan requirements are nothing new, they simply represent pulling the requirements of adopted town by-laws and regulations into a more easily accessible list. We expect to take this same process through the requirements for the Zoning Board of Appeals and the other regulatory boards.

The full Planing Board Special Permit and Site Plan Review Application is on the Town Website and available through this link as well:

Planning Board Special Permit and Site Plan Review Application

An Interesting Court Decision Out Of Texas

Thanks to the Inverse Condemnation Blog for this one, their discussion is found here.

HARRIS COUNTY FLOOD CONTROL DISTRICT AND HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS, PETITIONERS, v. EDWARD A. AND NORMA KERR, ET AL., RESPONDENTS is a Texas Supreme Court decision which, while not setting any precedent in Massachusetts, provides some important guidance for our local boards (Planning, Zoning and the Conservation Commission).

We now have about 5,000 properties in the flood zone. Many of these property owners will be looking to make changes to protect their property from flooding. How they do it may have consequences.

Years ago I argued that fill in the flood zone would have incremental impacts on adjacent properties. This argument was met with a rebuttal that it would be inconsequential due to the vastness of the ocean. I did not agree with that position then, I sill do not agree with it now.

Dennis is subject to storm surges, wave action that pushes water into our coastline and does not let it back out. Thus, fill located in the flood zone will push that water elsewhere, nearby. Not elsewhere in the Atlantic as was argued when this came up reviewing another project in Dennis.

Without a concerted effort to protect property, like dune construction, piecemeal attempts to protect one site needs to be balanced against the greater good. Elevating homes above base flood elevation is a good thing. We need to carefully consider how we approach this.

Harris County tells us that we cannot allow one property to solve its flood problems by aggravating flood problems for others. Essentially supporting my argument several years ago that filling the flood zone to protect one home without considering the surrounding impact to others is not only a bad idea, it may be compensable as a governmental taking.

As we start to work with more and more property owners on meeting flood zone elevation requirements, we may need to provide guidance on acceptable practices. Practices that design with accommodating the flow of storm surges, without displacing it onto neighboring properties are more acceptable than ones that displace the storm surge and increase the potential for flooding, scouring and erosion on adjacent properties. Elevating with flow through structures and flood vents are preferable over building islands around individual homes that will create channels around the retaining walls needed to protect these islands, which, just like connection a small hose to the end of a larger one, will increase the velocity of the storm surge for other surrounding properties.

Recently I had suggested relaxing the permitting process for elevating structures in the flood zone. If we do move forward with this idea, I think we have to make sure that structures taking advantage of a relaxed permitting process do not involve the use of fill.

A Zoning Thought Regarding Lifting Homes In The Flood Zone

Our neighbors to the far south (New Jersey) are providing me with many lessons regarding things we can do to better prepare for potential storm related flooding. The nightmares associated with rebuilding are hindering recovery. One issue that delays recovery is having to submit plans to various boards for approval before they can start work, work to simply elevate existing structures.

As I have watched these discussions,  I have give our process considerable thought. We too may have too much red tape. A house in West Dennis or Dennis Port could be forced to undergo Board of Appeals, Conservation Commission and possibly Board of Health Review before they can lift an existing structure.  In South Dennis and on the North side, you might add historic district review into the mix.

We need to cut the red tape, and take preemptive action, before a disaster strikes. Looking at a New Jersey law we might be able to craft a Zoning provision to at least remove one delay.

A first draft of such a provision might look like the following:

Amend Section 6 Flood Zone

Amend Section 6.6 Definitions by adding the following:

“Existing structure” means any structure that presently exists at the time a request is made to elevate.

“Highest applicable flood elevation standard” means the FEMA base flood elevation plus an additional three feet.

“New and appropriate elevation” means any elevation to which a structure is raised, or is to be raised, that is equal to or higher than the applicable FEMA base flood elevation, provided, however, in no case shall the new and appropriate elevation exceed the highest applicable flood elevation standard.

“Original dimensions” means the exact vertical and horizontal dimensions of a structure as it presently exists.

Add new Section 6.7 Special Provisions for Lifting Existing Structures to New And Appropriate Elevations

(1) Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law to the contrary, except as otherwise provided pursuant to paragraph (3) of this subsection, a person shall be allowed to lift an existing structure located in an Area of Special Flood Hazard to a new and appropriate elevation, or constructing a staircase or other attendant structure necessitated by such raising without the need for Board of Appeals relief, provided, however, this exemption shall apply only to the minimum extent or degree necessary to allow the structure to meet the new and appropriate elevation with adequate means of ingress and egress.

(2) Appurtenant to lifting an existing structure, the existing structure may be relocated elsewhere on the lot as long as said relocation does not create a new, or increase the intensity of a setback nonconformity.  For the purposes of accomplishing meeting the new and appropriate elevation, the restrictions found in Section D 2 (the so-called 40% rule) shall not apply.

(3) The exemption established pursuant to paragraph (1) of this subsection shall not be available to a person who has altered or is seeking to alter the original dimensions of a structure if, had the alteration not been made, the structure could have been raised to meet the new and appropriate elevation either without the exemption or with an  exemption of lesser degree than is needed with the alteration.