Freedom — February 28, 2004 — Two amendments to the Freedom zoning ordinance to be presented to voters on March 9th will allow developers to make “non-conforming” houses even more non-conforming, yet are worded in a way that suggests just the opposite.
Taken together, the two amendments recommend that expansions or replacements of non-conforming houses should not be higher than 35’. While that appears to be a new restriction, it is actually a substantial concession because the current allowable height increase is zero.
Non-conforming houses are those which existed before zoning and which do not conform to height and setback requirements. Generally speaking, that means they are too close to a shoreline, too close to a neighbor’s property line, or both. The town has many such properties on its lakes and ponds and in the historic village district.
The ordinance allows such houses to be expanded or completely replaced as long as they don’t become even more non-conforming. The modified or replaced house can’t cover too much of the lot, can’t move closer to the shoreline or property line, and can’t be made any higher. These restrictions can be modified in certain instances if approved by the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA), in which case the rights of abutting property owners are also considered in the town’s decision.
The amendments proposed by the Planning Board would grant wholesale approval for height increases up to 35’ without requiring an approval from the ZBA. The impact would be substantial, according to Ossipee Lake property owner Jean Marshall, who is a town planning professional.
In a letter last week to the editors of the Carroll County Independent and Conway Daily Sun, she and her husband, architect Ian Marshall, said that many people may be unaware that the proposed change could create greater density of building along shorelines that would encroach on the light, views, and privacy of adjoining properties. Marshall says that houses on slopes could actually rise much higher than 35’ at the bottom of the slope because the ordinance defines building height as a height taken from average ground level to rooftop.
The amendments would make the Town of Freedom less restrictive than state law within the 50’ setback that the state regulates as part of the Shoreland Protection Act. The administrator of that program, Gary Spring, confirmed in a phone call that if the amendments are approved, any change that the town authorizes within that setback area would be subject to further scrutiny by the state and could require additional approvals from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. At present there is no conflict between state and local laws because Freedom’s ordinance is more restrictive than the state’s, and the more restrictive rule pertains.
The Planning Board’s proposed amendments were approved on a 5-1 vote in December, two months after an application for a massive expansion of a non-conforming Berry Bay property was denied by the ZBA. In that case, a house that was approximately 10’ from the edge of the water was proposed to be demolished and replaced by a structure that would have almost doubled the home’s existing 22’ height to 40’ high directly on the shoreline.
If passed, the amendments proposed by the Planning Board would assist a developer to construct a house that high without having to seek ZBA approval because the developer could take advantage of the slope to maintain an average overall height of 35’.
During the past week, the Alliance phoned all of the Planning Board members who voted in favor of the amendments except for the former chairman, who is out of state for the winter. Several declined to return our calls and none of the others we reached would speak on the record about the Board’s intent in proposing the amendments or discuss why they felt they were in the community’s best interest.