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ZBA playing peacemaker, hopes to streamline processes

JULIE LANE PHOTO Sweet Tomato’s can keep its porch despite the fact that it encroaches on Heights Property Owner Corporation property by a few inches.

Sweet Tomato’s can keep its porch despite the fact that it encroaches on Heights Property Owner Corporation property by a few inches.

The Zoning Board of Appeals is trying to stop what has become a war between some applicants and the Building Department.

At issue is whether some applicants need a special permit because work they are proposing affects more than 50 percent of the original structure.

Applicants are loath to go the special permit route, according to Building Permit Coordinator Lori Beard Raymond, because when more than 50 percent of a structure is being changed, the entire building has to be brought up to code, which is something many want to avoid, she said.

But when Building Department personnel tell applicants they have to refuse a project, and they will then have to go to the ZBA for relief, the arguments can become heated.

At the October 19 meeting, ZBA Chairman Doug Matz suggested that disgruntled applicants be directed to the ZBA for an informal discussion. They don’t need to file an application or pay any fees for the ZBA to take a look at the basic plans and give advice about what the applicant will need to go forward with the project.

The ZBA will take the heat in advising the applicant about what will or will not pass muster, Mr. Matz said. But it’s better for everyone involved to begin on the same page than for a project to start and then receive a stop work order. And it’s certainly better to have an informal discussion with the ZBA than to argue with Building Department staff, Mr. Matz said.

“It takes the emotions out of it,” he added.

Ms. Raymond agreed, but said the plan to handle applicants in this way is not quite ready for prime time, with certain details needing work.

The ZBA voted at the meeting to allow Sweet Tomato’s restaurant in the Heights to maintain its front porch even though the structure juts a few inches onto neighboring property. The problem resulted from a faulty survey that guided the porch expansion several years ago. The Heights Property Owners Corporation (HPOC) that owns the adjacent property has no objection, according to a letter from General Manager Stella Lagudis. Restaurant owner Mary Rando agreed that if there was ever a change in that decision from HPOC, she would have the porch scaled back.

Robert Kloepfer of 52 Winthrop Road received approval for a variance for a house expansion enabling him to convert his 1950s ranch-style house by adding a second floor and squaring off the first floor to accommodate the addition to the existing nonconforming structure.

The house’s current living space takes up 1,324 square feet and would be 2,700 square feet when completed. The addition would provide for a fourth bedroom to what the three-bedroom structure. An air conditioning unit is planned, but it would be next to a garage to eliminate noise for neighbors. Neighbors at a hearing last month had voiced no objection to the plans that will bring the house into conformity with others in the area.

The ZBA granted a special permit, determining that more than 50 percent of the structure would be changed.