As Fall Town Meeting approaches, Rockport’s Planning Board is scrambling to tie down articles pertaining to a new home demolition and construction bylaw, while also taking a stand against a citizen petitioned article that would expand the pool of homes covered by town reviews.
The petitioned Article P would require site plan reviews for any demolition tied to the construction or expansion of buildings that would end up with gross floor areas of at least 4,500 square feet. The current bylaw requires a structure of 6,000 square feet or more to undergo a site plan review prior to renovations, construction or demolition.
“We do not support this article,” Planning Board Chair Hank Betts said. “We believe there are other ways of looking at the threshold for site plan review.”
A Finance Committee study decried the article in a recommendation to the town, saying 51 percent of Rockport structures now standing would have fallen into the site plan review requirement.
Finance panel members expressed fear that the increased regulations would push away homeowners and renovators. The committee warned the regulations would also create more work for Planning Board members.
Betts agreed the expanded requirement would add to the Planning Board’s workload and create extra hoops for homeowners to jump through.
“We, the Planning Board, have told the petitioners we are not supporting that. It’s ridiculous,” Betts said.
The board intends to study an alternative to the standing bylaw. The board will consider strategies taken by other towns, including comparing the desired square footage for a potential structure to the median square footage of buildings in its area, Betts said.
Though the board will not present an alternative site plan review threshold by Fall Town Meeting, Betts said the board will amend their own articles on the warrant before the Sept. 10 meeting and citizens’ vote.
Meanwhile, the board will meet tonight at 7:30 at the Town Hall Annex to hash out the details and logistics of site plan review articles put forth by the board. Later, Selectmen will sign those articles onto the warrant.
“The process isn’t done until we have our last meeting,” Betts said.
Members of the Preserve Rockport Citizens group, responsible for the petitioned articles, will also speak at the meeting.
Lead petitioner Mike Kenyon said that, though the Planning Board does not support the group’s proposal to require site plan review for 4,500-square-foot buildings, the group will continue to push the initiative, likely with amendments to the minimum square footage and specifications allowing minor renovations without review.
“I think that there’s still a lot of support for the idea of lowering the size threshold, particularly if we make some changes to the article” Kenyon said.
Kenyon disagreed with the sentiment of an increased load of site plan reviews resulting from the proposed change. Under the proposed size specifications, he said, only a handful of structures would require reviews each year.
“Our purpose is to make Rockport a more attractive community for people to live in and to come to,” Kenyon said. “Right now we’re feeling like site plan review needs to be given some greater frame. And, it’s also a way of helping set a vision for the town of what it wants to be.”
The planning board agreed to some extent, mimicking the petitioners’ other articles, including Article Q, which would require any building both larger than 800 square feet and at least 100 years undergo a site plan review prior to demolition, noting the inclusion of single and two-family homes.
In a similar article — Article K on Monday night’s Fall Town Meeting warrant, also put forth by the Planning Board — the board lays out the same requirements for site plan review before demolition of structures of at least 800 square feet and 100 years of age.
The board’s article simply adds that the new site plan review requirement should not apply to the demolition of dangerous or unsafe structures.
“We’re going to let the petitioners talk about why age is important,” Betts said. “Personally, I think we should have a site plan review on any demolition.”
Planning Board members and citizens group members have said they must choose between the two nearly identical articles before Rockporters vote. The groups are likely to decide which article to post and which to scratch at the Town Meeting, according to Kenyon.
“We’ll have to determine what makes sense at the Town Meeting,” Kenyon said. “But at this point I’m throwing my support behind the planning board article.”
And, Kenyon said, supported by the Planning Board or not, the citizens group will stand behind its proposal to broaden the pool of structures of a certain size requiring site plan review.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.