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ZBA ponders applications: delays one, approves one, denies one


KENT—The Zoning Board of Appeals this week again stayed action on an application that would allow the Homer Jennings family to share a driveway across their land at 186 Bulls Bridge Road to accommodate a new house. 

The Jennings had requested that the ZBA waived specific words in two sections of the zoning regulations governing access to properties. They wish to convey the rear two-acre lot they purchased in 1995 to their son, Chris, and his wife. The Jennings home lot is already nonconforming making a second cut to the landlocked rear property impossible. 

They purchased the back lot from the Newton family as a buffer for their home, anticipating that the Newtons would create a subdivision and that the landlocked rear parcel would gain access to a road at that time. The subdivision never occurred and the Jennings have never developed the back lot other than to build a shed.

Planner Janell Mullen represents the Jennings. She has argued that existing regulations mean the rear lot cannot be used for any reasonable purpose and that this creates a hardship. There was general public sympathy expressed for allowing the Jennings to have the shared drive, but ZBA member Elizabeth Aviles wondered why the two lots could not be combined into one larger lot, allowing an auxiliary dwelling unit to be constructed without increasing nonconformity. Kent has no limitations on the size of auxiliary dwellings.

Mullen said that being forced to treat the property as one lot would reduce the property values.

Land Use Administrator Tai Kern said zoning text amendments were requested only for this specific property, an option the ZBA can decide. But she noted that zoning requires that the shared drive not encroach on setbacks. The front lot is already non-conforming and allowing the request would make it more non-conforming.

Member Dan Schiesel said he did not believe rejecting the application would deny the Jennings the use of the property as it could be developed as an ADU. He moved to deny the application because it would increase nonconformity and he believes the regulations should not be changed. 

Member Steve Pener said he was not in favor of shared driveways, but conceded a shared drive would not be a problem in that section of town.

ZBA Chairman Anne Bisenius said allowing use of a rear lot would be in conformance with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development but that the proposal would require a variance from the zoning regulations. Member Elizabeth Aviles added that the POCD is designed to make the town a viable place where people can live, but that an accessory building could be built without the variance.

When a vote on the motion to deny was taken, Schiesel and member Dan Murray vote for it; Pener and Aviles were opposed. The action quickly ran into a snag, however, when Kern said that four positive votes are needed to vary zoning regulations. Mullen contradicted Kern, stating that two votes are required to vary a regulation and four votes are required to overturn a ZEO’s decision.

Schiesel withdrew his motion until Kern can confer with town counsel. Discussion will continue next month.

In other business, the ZBA approved an application from Colleen McGrath, 73 Kent Cornwall Rd., to build a deck on the south side of her home that would encroach by about five feet into the required setback. The house pre-exists zoning and is already non-conforming. The deck will not make it more so as it cannot be wider than the house.

Finally, The ZBA denied an application from David and Deborah Bain of 30 Studio Hill Circle to build a pool on the side of their house rather than in the rear. The Bains previously got a variance to build in the rear, but later discovered that construction would kill a 100-year-old tree.

Asked why he did not move the pool closer to the dwelling, Bain said it would create an ugly space, but Schiesel, who had looked at the site, so there is no hardship as there is sufficient space to meet the regulations. Aviles said that “ugly” does not constitute a hardship.

When the vote was called, Pener, Aviles and Murray voted in favor of allowing the new variance, while Schiesel and Bisenius were opposed. The motion failed because Kern said she firmly believes four “yea” votes are required to vary the regulations.

Kathryn Boughton
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