Freedom — May 24, 2007 — The Freedom Planning Board approved a request for condominiumization of five buildings on two non-conforming lots that were merged to one. The buildings, owned by Bob and Sharleen Houle, will be sold as condominiums, with the land being held in common by all condominium owners.
The board, which voted four to one to approve the condominiumization application with Selectman’s representative Les Babb voting against it, and Anne Cunningham abstaining, has deliberated over the application for more than three months now.
Houle’s attorney, Randy Cooper said in previous meetings that condominiumization is allowed under subdivision regulations, with the living structures being considered as units, which are comparable to lots. Cooper said the application was approved on the condition that the lots be made into one lot by removing the boundary line between them.
The original application was for two lots, one that is 2.7 acres with four buildings on it, and one that is 0.9 acres with one building on it. The condition would put all five buildings onto a 3.6 acre lot.
At one point, during the discussions that have been happening since the application was accepted as complete in January was whether or not the cabins, three of which are seasonal camps only, would be upgraded to year-round. Some planning board members said that having people in these houses year-round would create a completely different impact on the land and the area.
Having people living in these units year-round would also mean there would be a need to have the driveway or road plowed out not only for emergency vehicles but also for school buses, if families with children moved into them.
In previous meetings, Houle had said that the cabins could be converted to year-round residences, but at last Thursday’s meeting, Babb said Houle would not agree to say the camps would be only seasonal.
“I was very disappointed,” Babb said, “because all the questions being asked were based on the impact to the surrounding community.” Having people live in all five buildings year-round would change the character of the area.
The board went through a three-step process to determine whether or not the proposed uses were actually an extension of the already non-conforming use. If each question passed, the expansion of the non-conforming use would be considered acceptable.
They asked whether the proposed use reflects the nature and purpose of the current non-conforming use, whether it is different manner of using the original non-conforming use or if it constitutes a different use altogether, or if it does not have substantially different impact on the neighborhood.
Each question was voted on and passed, with six members in agreement with the first questions, and four members in agreement with the last two questions.
Cooper said converting a building into a condominium is not a change in use. Converting a building from seasonal to year-round is not addressed in Freedom’s zoning ordinance, he continued. The reason the lot was considered non-conforming is because there were too many buildings on one lot, a density issue, not a use issue. “The use does not change until it goes from season to year-round, and then it’s not a change in use,” he said. The Supreme Court said that conversion is not a change in use.
Other considerations the board made involve the size of the buildings, the status of the access road, and the septic systems on the property. As part of the subdivision application, the buildings must stay within their current footprints, the road must remain a private driveway and can never be brought forward to the town to be accepted as a town road, and septic systems must be inspected and cleaned every two years.
The existing septic systems are old, Houle said, but are not failing yet. Abutter Barry Rollins disagreed at one of the previous meetings. He said he has seen foam on the beach after people have been in Houle’s cabins, which he suspects is from the old septic systems.
Alan Fall, Houle’s engineer, said that the state only requires that there is a plan for a new septic system if the current one fails. Nothing has to be brought up to code when a sale takes place.
The board also implemented a condition that trees be planted between Houle’s property and Rollins’ property as a screen to block the view of any recreational vehicles or campers on the Houle property. Also, any garages built on the property must not contain living spaces.
Rollins said he is shocked at the planning board’s decision. “There were many legalities that were presented to them that they ignored,” he said. “There are a lot of issues they totally ignored.” The town’s attorney, Peter Malia, had said at earlier meetings that the lots could not be merged, and they did it anyway, Rollins said.
Rollins said he has 30 days to appeal the board’s decision and has sent the application and decision to his lawyer for review.
The following letter by Berry Bay Association president Paul Clausen also appears in today’s Independent.
Planning Board Vote Could Be Far Reaching
To the Editor:
In a self described “precedence setting” action last Thursday night the Freedom Planning Board voted four to one to allow two non-conforming shorefront properties to be merged and be converted to five condominium units.
It remained unclear to many at the meeting, including some of the Board members themselves, whether this action was within local and state guidelines.
The ramifications of the Planning Board vote could be far reaching. There are numerous properties in the area that have out buildings, guest houses, and two-story garages that fall into the same category as the property that they voted to convert to condominiums. It is not inconceivable that the Planning Board will see a flood of similar proposals in the future.
Simply put, if you want to maximize your profit from the sale of your house that also has a guest house, merge them to condominiums and nearly double the price.
Unfortunately the Planning Board trivialized the impact to the community and neighbors. They demonstrated a lack of planning.
May 23, 2007