Category Archives: Planning Board

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.

New City Rule Could Make Somerville Housing More Affordable – Real estate news –

New City Rule Could Make Somerville Housing More Affordable – Real estate news –

Definitely worth throwing on the table. We have programs that take care of those earning below 80% of median income, but very little for those earning just a hair above that 80% target. Somerville is taking a lead in promoting housing for that forgotten group of working class people who do not qualify for “affordable” housing.  We have it in the Municipally Sponsored Project part of our by-law, which has not been largely used. Perhaps we need to reconsider some aspects of our Affordable Housing By-law. Drop down to 20% for those under 80% of median and make a requirement of 5% to 10% for moderate income households. Perhaps 5% for those earning between 80% and 95% of median and 5% for those earning between 100% and 110% of median income.



A second zoning amendment the Planning Board will be discussing tonight deals with allowing for “in-law” apartments. In 1999 the Planning Board brought to Town Meeting amendments to definitions. One definition added was the creation of a term “DWELLING, ONE UNIT WITH ACCESSORY APARTMENT” however, this particular use was never added to the use table.

The Planning Board is considering adding this to the use table and will also be discussing the definition, which is a bit cumbersome at the moment.

Amend Section 5 Definitions by editing  the Definition of DWELLING, ONE UNIT WITH ACCESSORY APARTMENT (Deletions Strikethrough, Additions Bold Italic) as follows:

DWELLING, ONE UNIT WITH ACCESSORY APARTMENT An owner-occupied building containing two (2) dwelling units, one (1) of which shall be an accessory apartment with a net floor living area not to exceed six hundred (600) square feet, which includes not more than one bedroom, a kitchen, living room and bath. For the purpose of this definition, either one unit shall be owner occupied on a year-round basis, except for bona fide temporary absences during which the owner occupied unit shall is not be rented. The apartment created by this definition shall be restricted to use by the property owner’s immediate family, including in-laws (mother, father, brother, sister), and/or a health care professional providing a service to the above family.

Amend Section Residential Uses by adding a new subsection DWELLING, ONE UNIT WITH ACCESSORY APARTMENT.



Quivet Neck/Crowe’s Pasture Resource Protection District RR LB EB GC-I GC-II



Area A


Area B

k. Dwelling, One Unit With Accessory Apartment Y N Y Y N N Y N Y Y

Division Of Structures Pre-dating Subdivision Control Onto Separate Lots

Another interesting concept from Nantucket addresses an inconsistency between the Subdivision Control Act and the Zoning Act. Chapter 41 Section 81L allows structures that are on one lot to be divided onto separate lots. Under the Zoning Act these new lots are illegal as new non-conformities are created by the land division. Nantucket Town Meeting was asked to consider giving these parcels a protected status.

“Lots created pursuant to MGL c. 41, § 81P, based upon the exception in the clause of MGL c. 41, § 81L for lots containing two or more structures that predate the adoption of subdivision control in the Town, shall have the same status as preexisting, nonconforming lots, and any structures thereon, which predate the adoption of subdivision control in the Town, shall have the status of preexisting nonconforming structures.”

Under this provision, structures maintain pre-existing non-conforming status, the new setbacks frontage and lot areas would all be protected. The zoning proposal provides protection for structures. It does not address uses. One would have to conclude that dividing cottages onto separate lots would not give seasonal structures year round status.

“Tiny Houses” Food For Thought

Nantucket Town Meeting faced a petition article calling for the creation of a special zoning district for “Tiny Houses.” While, ultimately this issue appears to have been addressed in a different zoning amendment, it provides food for thought.

The Nantucket proposal:

“In order  to relieve  some of  the  pressure  for  affordable,  available  housing  for  year-round residents and seasonal workers, a new Zoning District shall be established.”

1. To amend section 2, definitions, as follows:

“TINY  HOUSE A  detached  structure of  less  than  500 square  feet  containing a  single  dwelling  unit, constructed  on  a moveable  trailer,  or  a  slab  foundation.   A  tiny  house  may  be accessory  to  an  existing dwelling(s)  on  a  lot,  or  constructed on  a lot  with multiple tiny house dwellings  at  a density  of  one  unit  for  each  2,500 square feet  of  lot  area.   No commercial  or  other  non-residential  uses  shall  be  permitted  on  a  lot  containing  a tiny house. The Planning Board shall be the special permit granting authority.”

“2.  To amend section  7A,  use chart,  by  inserting  in the “Use”  column  between  “accessory apartment”  and “garage apartment”  a  new  use “Tiny  House”  to  be  allowed  by  Special Permit  (SP)  or  as  an  Accessory  Use (A)  in  all  zoning  districts.”

“3. To amend section 7B, prohibited uses in all districts, as follows:”

“(2)  Use of  a  trailer  or  a  building-like container  for  residential  purposes  or  as  a  principal or  accessory  building  or  structure  except  such  structures  designated  as  “Tiny  Houses” or  as  necessary  for  storage  of  chemicals  and/or  equipment  by  the  Nantucket  Fire Department. ”

Ultimately this concept appears to have been rolled into amendments addressing “accessory dwellings” and “tertiary dwellings.” However,  these amendments do not specifically mention “tiny houses” or creating stand alone sites for such housing.

My thoughts,  tiny houses are a new vogue in affordable housing consideration.  They might meet a niche need for individuals or couples, but as stand alone properties with multiple housing units are more suited to seasonal uses than year round affordable housing.

As a niche use, perhaps there is a place for them. Accessory dwellings on a single family lot as it appears Nantucket adopted seems viable.  Perhaps, within the affordable housing by-law this could create an option for otherwise unbuildable lots, specifically a portion of the lots in town with less than 5,000 sf or less than 50 feet of frontage. I would think we would want to maintain at least 2,500 sf for a minimum land area as is the case in the Nantucket proposal.

Let’s discuss.

“Owner Occupied” Zoning Definition

From the “We can learn from what others are doing” school of zoning….

Nantucket just finished with its Town Meeting.  Needless to say they entertained a number of zoning amendments. Some mundane. Some intriguing.

Drawing from a more detailed zoning amendment, I found them adopting a definition of “owner occupied.” As I read it, I realized we do not define this term either, even though we make use of it in several sections of our zoning by-law.

Nantucket proposed the following:

“OWNER OCCUPIED The primary  residence,  or  temporary  (seasonal)  residence,  of  a person(s)  or  the individual  beneficiaries  of  a legal  entity  that  holds  title  to  the  property,  where such persons  are physically  present  and  living within dwelling  units  on said property  for  at least  three  months  each calendar  year.   Properties  owned  by  corporations  and the like, time sharing interval  dwelling  units,  or  where  all  units  are made available  for  rent  do not qualify  as  owner  occupied.”

It is a definition we could work with. It recognizes the seasonal nature of the use of housing in this area; the issue of interval ownership properties; properties in family trusts; and corporate owned properties.  The length of owner occupancy may be a bit short,  but it provides a starting point.

Let’s start the discussion.

Massachusetts revamps medical marijuana licensing process |

Massachusetts revamps medical marijuana licensing process |