Planning Board discusses potential 2021 clarification, updates of bylaws

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By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer

Northborough – The Northborough Planning Board met on Nov. 4 and initially discussed thoughts for bylaw amendments and clarifications for 2021. More in-depth conversations will be held in upcoming meetings, but the deadline to submit articles to the Town Administrator is February 4.  

Board member Amy Poretsky highlighted some areas where changes should be considered that have caused some confusion in recent hearings, and would clarify the bylaw for town staff, applicants and Board members for use in future decision making.

One such area is a better definition of a contractor’s yard, which she said was somewhat “vague”. Northborough could update the definition similar to how surrounding towns have it defined. 

Poretsky said removing a use variance could prevent a potential loophole. 

“If you really want to follow the bylaws and have them be what you want, say your downtown, as long as you have the use variance you will never hit that goal,” she said. “Anything that is prohibited can be overridden with a use variance.”

Another bylaw that Poretsky said needs updating is non-conforming uses to include the intent and purpose of the bylaw. An update would help to eliminate gray areas for all involved. She suggested making the bylaw more specific by including, for example, the definition of grandfathering and the steps needed to assist in use determination. 

“Grandfathering non-conforming is one of the more confusing things to follow,” she said.

Board member Millie Milton wanted to consider how the Planning Board could address sober houses or rehab in the bylaws “to at least be aware of what is our best course of action when we have something that becomes before us.”

Building Inspector Bob Frederico said that this is a protective class under the United States Constitution and the Planning Board cannot restrict them from any districts. For the most part, these are self-regulated and that leaves a lot to be desired. 

Sober houses can go into single family homes overnight and as Town Planner Kathy Joubert said, if this is the case, by law it is not treated any different than your own house. 

Board member Anthony Ziton’s areas of concern is Business West, which he sees much potential and an area to push in a different direction. This is the general area of West Main Street from approximately Pinehaven Drive to Crawford Street. He also mentioned wanting to explore signs again in the different zones in the downtown/Route 20 area. 

Another a topic of discussion by Chair Kerri Martinek was accessory dwelling units, which often are used by people to take care of aging parents or an adult child with disabilities.

These units are 700 square feet or 25 percent of the primary house; anything bigger would be considered a second house or duplex. The language of the bylaw was previously changed from in-law dwelling to accessory dwelling unit to open up the use to more than a temporary family need. Managing and verifying occupants would be difficult if the use was too defined.

Board member Michelle Gillespie cautioned Board members that as they make suggestions for changes in the Business West area to consider making a recommendation of what type of businesses they would like to see. She also does not want to see the small business owner be lumped into a broader definition and be eliminated from having the opportunity to set up operations in this area. 

The next meeting on Tuesday, November 17 will discuss prioritizing the bylaw concerns and determining which ones to move forward with proposed amendments. 

The full meeting can be viewed on the Northborough Remote Meeting channel on YouTube.