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Montague Planning Board eyes striking minimum-apartment-size bylaw

  • Recorder file/Peter MacDonald<br/>Abutters have appealed a Zoning Board of Appeals approval for two special permits and a variance for Mark Zaccheo of Greenfield to convert the former Montague Center School into 22 apartments.<br/>

    Recorder file/Peter MacDonald
    Abutters have appealed a Zoning Board of Appeals approval for two special permits and a variance for Mark Zaccheo of Greenfield to convert the former Montague Center School into 22 apartments.

  • Recorder file photo<br/>The Montague Zoning Board of Appeals approved Mark Zaccheo’s plans for creating parking for his planned apartment complex at the former Montague Center School.

    Recorder file photo
    The Montague Zoning Board of Appeals approved Mark Zaccheo’s plans for creating parking for his planned apartment complex at the former Montague Center School.

  • Recorder file/Peter MacDonald<br/>Abutters have appealed a Zoning Board of Appeals approval for two special permits and a variance for Mark Zaccheo of Greenfield to convert the former Montague Center School into 22 apartments.<br/>
  • Recorder file photo<br/>The Montague Zoning Board of Appeals approved Mark Zaccheo’s plans for creating parking for his planned apartment complex at the former Montague Center School.

MONTAGUE — The town Planning Board proposes striking a minimum apartment size from the zoning bylaws in a move with implications for the ongoing dispute surrounding a proposed redevelopment of the former Montague Center School.

“One of the points the Planning Board is making is this needs to be done anyway, and this project among others have brought that issue to light,” said Town Planner Walter Ramsey.

Under the bylaws, any dwelling, whether apartment, home or otherwise must have a minimum of 700 square feet of living space.

A public hearing Tuesday will gather input on proposals to strike that minimum from the laws or allow for exemptions on a special permit rather than a variance, which has tougher requirements.

Currently, the minimum can be waived through a variance issued by the Zoning Board of Appeals, as it was in the case of Mark Zaccheo’s proposal to convert the vacant school into apartments.

The ZBA in October granted the variance to allow up to 10 apartments smaller than the minimum, with Zaccheo presenting plans for 22 apartments, eight of which would fall at or below the minimum.

The proposal and decision proved controversial, and a group of abutters appealed the decision with a lawsuit filed in November alleging the board did not have sufficient grounds for the variance and two accompanying special permits.

Much of the argument focused on the scale of the development, with opponents arguing the 22 apartments would hurt the neighborhood and the community, some focusing on noise and traffic, others the hypothetical new residents presumed to be college students uninvested in the community.

If the minimum were removed from the zoning laws, Ramsey said Zaccheo would no longer need the variance, leaving only the special permit aspects of the suit.

Any change to the bylaw would require a two-thirds majority vote at town meeting, potentially at the annual town meeting in May.

Ramsey said he needs to check the numbers, but it appears half of the six other applications for the variance since 2006 have been granted.

“The bylaw has in effect been treated as a Special Permit rather than a variance by the Board of Appeals, thus permitting dwelling units less than 700 square feet in the Town of Montague,” Ramsey wrote in an explanation of the proposed amendment.

Variances require proof of hardship and are meant to be used more sparingly than special permits, Ramsey said.

According to the memo, the board has found no such residential minimums in neighboring towns; the 350-square-foot minimum established in the state health code would still apply.

The hearing is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Town Hall, preceded by a 6:30 p.m. hearing on a proposal to change the zoning of about 74 acres on West Mineral Road from industrial to agricultural-forestry use.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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