The ruling, which was issued Feb. 22, upholds a 2010 Land Court ruling and overturns decisions by the city’s Inspectional Services Department. It could reverse at least two other building permits issued for properties in the city. The city had been waiting for the ruling before it issued any building permits for lots that could be subject to an exception in the city’s zoning ordinances.
“We’re relieved and we’re pleased,” said Ron Mauri, who along with his wife Maureen filed the appeal with the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals when the city issued a building permit in 2009 to his neighbors James and Bonnie Chansky for construction of a single-family dwelling on a garage lot at 31 Bradford Road.
“This has been a difficult and unpleasant undertaking, but the negative impacts of permitting the construction of a large house on a substandard lot would be felt by the whole neighborhood,” Mauri told the TAB.
The city’s zoning ordinances allow construction in a single-home residential district if the lot is at least 10,000 square feet and the housing is set far back enough from property lines. But there are exceptions in the city’s zoning ordinances such as Section 30-15 (c )(3)(b). Residents like the Mauris say it’s the interpretation of these exceptions that has become the source of at least two court cases.
Alderman Brian Yates was chairman of the aldermanic Zoning and Planning Committee in 2000 when a Zoning Task Force was created to address inconsistencies in interpretations of zoning ordinances. The committee approved changes to the zoning ordinances in 2001 to allow older homes on substandard lots to continue to be used. After the changes, vacant substandard sideyard lots in common ownership with adjoining lots continued to be unbuildable as they had been since 1940, Yates said.
Yates testified before the Zoning Board of Appeals that the building permit the city issued for the Bradford Road property was “illegal under ordinances [the aldermen] had passed,” he said. The Zoning Board ultimately voted three to two to overturn the building permit, but the vote required a supermajority of four members.
Yates told the TAB previously that the subcommittee’s intention in 2001 was to allow homes on substandard lots to continue to be used. The exemption wasn’t intended to make vacant lots that were considered too small buildable, he said.
But Ernie Rogers, the Chanskys’ developer, told the TAB that he’s disappointed the city’s aldermen haven’t “acted to clarify the language in the ordinance.”
“I’ve never seen a city or a town rely upon the courts to determine what the local zoning is,” he said Friday.
Rogers said he and the Chanskys are considering appealing the Appeals Court ruling to the state Supreme Court.
“This decision is going to affect a great many people,” he said. “There are 300 families who own these types of lots, if the ordinance is not changed they’ll lose their ability to build them and they’ll loose a great deal of money. “This is going to bankrupt a couple of local builders as well.”
According to the Appeals Court judge’s decision the Chansky’s proposed home would’ve been significantly larger than the existing garage, contained a second story, and extend fifty-five feet in length alongside the Mauris’ dwelling. Thirteen windows [would’ve] faced the Mauris’ home.”
Yates called the decision a “tremendous victory for the people of Newton, who don’t’ want the city overdeveloped."
By Chloe Gotsis