Two separate articles, each of which would expand Rockport’s site review bylaws and control over house demolitions and other moves, will officially be up for residents’ votes in September once selectmen sign the Fall Town Meeting warrant during their meeting tonight at Town Hall.
The warrant articles come in the wake of what proponents call a pattern of changes to large structures in the town.
One article submitted by the Planning Board and another by a petitioning group called Preserve Rockport would require site plan reviews before the demolition of any structure that is 100 years old or older, and also has a floor area of at least 800 square feet.
Mike Kenyon, an active backer of Preserve Rockport since the group’s February beginnings, said the planning board had considered the group’s citizen petition in the board’s writing of their own article on site plan review.
“The Planning Board, over the last few weeks, has been looking at the language of the citizens’ petition and has been working on some language that it prefers,” Kenyon said. “I appreciate that the Planning Board was seriously reviewing the citizens’ petitions and developing its own recommended language. From what I understand, the board was trying to accomplish some of the same goals as the citizens’ petitions.”
The two articles are not identical.
The citizen petition article, unlike the Planning Board version, denotes that single and two-family homes that meet the new proposed size and age criteria would be included under the new site plan review. But the Planning Board’s article uniquely specifies that the board’s site plan review requirement would not apply to the demolition of structures determined by officials to be unsafe.
Both site plan reviews would require the structure owners whose buildings meet the new criteria to undergo a review of changes and a public hearing before altering property, according to Sam Coulbourn, a former Planning Board Chairman who helped Preserve Rockport in writing its petition. The petition garnered nearly 200 signatures, well beyond the required 100.
Coulbourn said site plan reviews are not intended to prevent demolition, but to give neighbors a forewarning and a chance to speak up.
“This isn’t meant to prevent you from making changes. It means talking to somebody,” Coulbourn said. “It allows the public to be informed, so you don’t wake up one morning and see the house across the street has turned into a giant monstrosity.
“You always have to work between the demands and needs of the owner and the needs of the community,” Coulbourn said. He said the community’s needs include preserving the charm of Rockport, but also must allow for fundamental change, as in dealing with drainage issues.
“In a town that’s mostly rocks,” Coulbourn said, “you have to be careful where the water goes.”
Residents will vote on each article separately at Fall Town Meeting on Sept. 10. And, Kenyon said, Preserve Rockport backers will have to decide on which article to endorse before the meeting.
“Any of us will try to decide in advance which article makes the most sense to advocate for. It probably does not make sense for both to be passed,” Kenyon said. “We will have to see whether its final version is an improvement.”
Opponents, however, have called both proposals unfair to owners of larger-than-average structures, requiring them to take extra steps before changing the properties.
John T. Kolackovsky, in a letter to the Times that appears today, wrote that this kind of review impugns on homeowners’ rights and, regardless of size requirements, would be unfair to any affected homeowner.
“Most property owners like to exercise their rights of ownership. After all, they are paying the taxes, the mortgage, the bills and maintenance,” Kolackovsky wrote.
Kolackovsky and opponents fear the proposed articles could prevent homeowners from making the decision that is best for themselves, economically.
“If you ever owned an old house, sooner or later you probably considered taking it down and re-building. Sometimes it just makes economic sense,” he wrote.
Frances Fleming, who chairs the Board of Selectmen, said the Planning Board’s articles have been well-vetted by its consultant and the Town Government and Bylaw Committee, adding that any petitions within the warrant must be reviewed for legality before Town Meeting, too.
“We can’t have the town voting on things that are not legal,” Fleming said.
Selectmen Tuesday night, during a meeting that begins at 6:30 p.m., are expected to sign the warrant in its entirety, not endorsing any articles, but simply slating both proposals and other items on the warrant for Fall Town Meeting votes.
Though the town’s budget talks are reserved for the spring town meeting, also on the fall warrant are some “house keeping” funding and appropriation articles as well as articles regarding the appropriation of Community Preservation Funds, money which is separate from the budgeted town dollars, Fleming said.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.