Freedom–February 5, 2015–Freedom’s annual Town Meeting is Tuesday, March 10, and and among the questions for voters is whether to approve five amendments to the town’s zoning ordinance. The amendments, which appear on the ballot as Article 2 through Article 6 (after Article 1 to elect the town’s officers) include provisions to address development in the protected shorefront zone, which is 300 feet from the high water mark. The Planning Board says it has focused on the shorefront because water quality is so important to maintaining the town’s tax base. Whether you’re a voter or a non-resident taxpayer, the Planning Board hopes you’ll take the time to understand the proposed changes.
The following information has been provided by Anne Cunningham, who chairs the Planning Board and is a resident of Berry Bay.
Amendment #1: Incorporate the state requirement for a shoreland permit to the ordinance
Explanation: Any person doing construction, excavation, or filling in the protected shorefront needs a state permit. The purpose of the permitting process is to ensure that people undertaking these projects prevent erosion into a waterbody that can degrade water quality during and after construction. If the project is small, state law provides for a “permit by notification.” The state must respond within 10 days or the application is considered approved. The zoning amendment adds the requirement for a permit by notification to the Freedom Zoning Ordinance. Adding this section will place no additional requirements on the applicant above what is currently required by state law. It does, however, allow the town of Freedom to ensure that erosion is prevented.
This amendment asks that an applicant who has received a state permit by notification also obtain a town permit. The permit is issued by the Zoning Officer after completion of an application (basically describing the project) and the receipt of one copy of the state application materials and the state-issued permit by notification. In the past, many of these projects required a special exception granted by the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The proposed change will simplify applications for small projects by eliminating the need for the applicant to go to the ZBA. The final sentence says that Table 304.5, which lists uses in the town’s Shorefront District, will be updated to show this change.
Ballot Language: ARTICLE 2: (To vote by Official Ballot): Are you in favor of the adoption of Amendment No. 1 as proposed by the Planning Board for the Town zoning ordinance as follows: Add section 304.6.1 to the zoning ordinance to require a town permit for construction, excavation, and filling within the protected shoreland. The Freedom Zoning Officer will issue a zoning permit upon receipt of an application and reviewing the state application materials and the state permit. If this ARTICLE passes, table 304.5 will be revised to reflect this change.
If you are planning a construction project in the shore front, please follow this link for the information you will need: http://des.nh.gov/organization/divisions/water/wetlands/cspa/permit-by-notification.htm
Amendment #2: Repeal section 304.6.3.2
Explanation: The current zoning ordinance allows the Zoning Officer to grant permits (without the need for the applicant to go to the Zoning Board of Adjustment) on construction projects not exceeding 600 square feet of disturbance. If Amendment #1 (section 304.6.1) passes, all of the projects included in this section will be covered by Amendment #1, so this amendment asks for its repeal. The final sentence says that, if Amendment #1 does not pass, this section will stay in effect.
Ballot Language: ARTICLE 3: (To vote by Official Ballot): Are you in favor of the adoption of Amendment No. 2 as proposed by the Planning Board for the Town zoning ordinance as follows: Repeal section 304.6.3.2 Construction Not Exceeding 600 Square Feet of Disturbance because the adoption of section 304.6.1 will cover all construction projects of 600 feet and under. The repeal of this article shall become effective only if ARTICLE 2 (amendment 1, above) is adopted.
Amendment #3: Change the 10% Coverage Calculation in Section 310.1.5
Explanation: The current ordinance requires that all structures on a lot not exceed 10% of the lot’s area. The current calculation contains the area of all “structures,” including walls, stairs to the water, decks that may allow water to go into the ground (rather than into the water body). On small lots, this can be constraining. This amendment would change the 10% coverage calculation to include the only the area of the lot covered by roofs. For example, if an applicant is proposing to add a covered porch or a garage, the area of the structure would be included. If the addition is a deck that allows water to percolate into the ground, and not run off into the lake, the area of the deck would not be included.
In most cases, these projects would also be subject to the permit by notification requirement described in Amendment #1 above. So, the Zoning Officer, in giving a permit under this section of the ordinance, would also be looking for the state permit by notification—with its erosion control plans, which protect water quality.
Ballot Language: ARTICLE 4: (To vote by Official Ballot): Are you in favor of the adoption of Amendment No. 3 as proposed by the Planning Board for the Town zoning ordinance as follows: Change section 310.1.5, the 10% coverage rule for structures on lots, to change the method of calculating the coverage to include only the area of the lot covered by roofs. (Amendment #1, adding section 304.6.1, will cover all other impervious surfaces.)
Amendment #4: Allow Certified Arborists to Give Opinions on Dead, Diseased, or Unsafe Trees
Explanation: Currently, property owners who have dead, diseased, or unsafe trees on their property must get a permit to remove the tree(s) from the Zoning Officer. If the zoning officer can determine that the tree is dead, diseased, or unsafe by visual inspection, he will issue a permit. If, after visual inspection, the Zoning Officer is not sure of the condition of the tree(s), the current ordinance requires the applicant to obtain an opinion of a licensed NH forester. The amendment would allow a certified arborist or a licensed NH forester to provide an opinion.
Ballot Language ARTICLE 5: (To vote by Official Ballot): Are you in favor of the adoption of Amendment No. 4 as proposed by the Planning Board for the Town zoning ordinance as follows: Modify the requirements in section 304.6.5.7 regarding cutting dead, diseased, and unsafe trees to allow an applicant wishing to remove dead, diseased, or unsafe trees to obtain the opinion of a certified arborist or licensed NH forester to attest to the condition of the tree(s).
Amendment #5: Add a Definition of Living Space to the Zoning Ordinance
Explanation: The ordinance contains a definition of a dwelling unit and specifies the requirements and limitations of adding a dwelling unit to any lot. Some property owners want to use out buildings or other structures as “living space,” but the ordinance does not address what living space is. The proposed definition that the planning board is asking voters to add to the ordinance appears below in the ballot question.
Ballot Language: ARTICLE 6: (To vote by Official Ballot): Are you in favor of the adoption of Amendment No. 5 as proposed by the Planning Board for the Town zoning ordinance as follows: Add a definition of living space to section 1802 to clarify what living space is and the requirements for using parts of structures as living space. Living space is space used for recreational activities, sleeping, storage, or other uses accessory to the primary home. Living space cannot include a stove and/or other cooking appliances. Inclusion of a stove or other cooking appliances creates a dwelling unit. Any living space used for sleeping must meet all building code and life safety requirements.
Planning Board Chair Cunningham welcomes questions on any of the proposed amendments. Contact her at email@example.com.