Zoning Board Meeting Minutes – 1/20/21

Meeting via Zoom

Roll Call: Zoom meetings require that every vote be taken by an individual board member voice response. Ms. Jan Leclerc introduced herself as chair of the Zoning Board of Adjustment in Walpole and Marilou Blaine as recording secretary. She said each person was in a separate location. Then she called the names of each Board member and he/she responded “here.” Board members saying “here” were Clerk Tom Murray, Vice-Chair Myra Mansouri and Pauline Barnes and alternates Don Sellarole and David Edkins. Ms. Leclerc recused Ms. Barnes from voting because she was hosting the Zoom meeting and then asked Mr. Sellarole and Mr. Edkins to fill in for absent board member Ernie Vose and recused board member Pauline Barnes. Also absent was Alternate Judy Trow. The meeting was being recorded.

Meeting Opened: Ms. Leclerc called the meeting to order at 7 pm.

Minutes: Ms. Leclerc made one modification to the November 2020 minutes. On page 2, top line should read “Ms. Barnes and Ms. Mansouri met twice to modify two ordinances.” Mr. Edkins made a motion that the minutes be approved as corrected. Mr. Sellarole seconded the motion and the motion passed when Ms. Leclerc asked each individual ZBA member his/her vote. Myra Mansouri, Tom Murray, Dave Edkins, Don Sellarole and Jan Leclerc all replied “aye.

New Business:

Extension of time to demolish a building: In September 2020, Mark Stevens of 363 Watkins Hill Road asked for and received a three-month extension of time to demolish his parents’ home while he was building a home for himself on the same lot. A Walpole zoning ordinance states that there may be only one main house on a lot.

In September, Mr. Stevens said construction on his house was taking longer than expected. His contractor contracted Covid, which delayed construction for a couple of weeks while he was recuperating. It has also been difficult corralling his five siblings to come to Walpole and divide up personal items. Now Mr. Stevens said that he needed an extension of time because he has had difficulty finding a salvage company to deconstruct the building. He recently found one in Dummerston, VT, which he hoped would do the salvage work in February or early March and also expected a local contractor, Ben Northcott, to take the building down to the ground in the spring. He asked for a three-month extension.

After some consideration, Ms. Leclerc suggested six months. Her experience, she said, has been that this type of thing takes longer than expected. Mr. Stevens said he would love to have the six months. Mr. Sellarole asked if there was a downside to waiting to take the building down. Are there any neighbors involved? Mr. Sellarole asked. Mr. Stevens said nobody is objecting and he doesn’t have neighbors that are very close. It’s in a rural area. Nobody cares? Mr. Sellarole asked. Mr. Steven confirmed that nobody cares. Ms. Mansouri asked if the house was the building being demolished on Prospect Hill. Mr. Stevens replied no and said Prospect Hill turns into Watkins Hill. The building is actually a couple of miles from that site and it doesn’t look like it should be demolished even though it really should be. Ms. Barnes agreed with Ms. Leclerc saying why not take the extra time. Everything takes longer with the Covid pandemic and getting your siblings together may take longer than you expect. Ms. Leclerc asked if there were any reasons that you might be keeping this house to use or to rent. Mr. Stevens said absolutely not. It’s been vacant for 10 years.

Mr. Edkins said six months seems reasonable. Ms. Mansouri agreed and she made a motion to give Mr. Stevens a six-month extension. Mr. Edkins seconded the six-month extension regarding removal of the house. In a voice vote Ms. Mansouri, Mr. Edkins, Mr. Sellarole, Mr. Murray and Ms. Leclerc said “aye”. The motion carried. 

Signage for Shaws in North Meadow Plaza: The supermarket chain plans to add signs for grocery pick-up. The signage would include: a sign on the building advertising the pick-up service; reserved parking space signs; and a couple of directional signs in the parking lot. A representative, Diane Howe, from Bailey Signs in Westbrook, ME contacted the recording secretary and sent five samples of proposed signs. All were difficult to read because the printed words were not only fuzzy but so small the reader sometimes needed a magnifying glass. The sign on the building comes in three sizes and Ms. Howe did not indicate which size would be on the Walpole sign. Also, none of the samples indicated exactly where the reserved parking spaces or directional signs would be placed in the parking lot. The recording secretary sent Ms. Howe the Walpole zoning ordinance for signage in a commercial district and requested more legible copies. A new contact, Ms. Diane Leavitt, said in an email earlier in the week that “the work will occur within the next few months. As soon as I have size confirmation for this location, I will reach out regarding your next available Zoom meeting.” 

Short-term rental ordinance discussion.

Ms. Leclerc said we have a whole year to work on this ordinance. At the in-person November meeting, Board members had quite a different range of opinions regarding the definition of short-term rentals and what the ordinance should say. Now the Zoning Board has a year to discuss and tinker with the ordinance and present it to the Planning Board.

Ms. Mansouri said short-term rentals are not the same as a B&Bs and they should not be included in the same ordinance. Ms. Barnes said now that we have the time it would be very useful to explore all the ramifications. For example, Barnes said, the Board didn’t discuss the distinctions that some other towns are making between owner-occupied vs. investor-backed short-term rentals. Ms. Barnes suggested having a workshop to discuss just this one topic. 

Ms. Mansouri said she thought a more stringent definition was needed for a short-term rental operation that is not a B&B, but is a commercial rental. Ms. Barnes said those are the kinds of things we need to explore, Ms. Barnes said. A B&B is owner-occupied where rooms are rented and there is breakfast, Ms. Mansouri said. Ms. Barnes said that could also describe someone who is living at home but also renting out a room.

Ms. Leclerc asked other members what they thought about a workshop. Mr. Murray thought it would be a good, as did Mr. Sellarole and eventually everyone else was on board and decided to have a workshop meeting one week before the Board’s next regular February meeting. It would also be a Zoom meeting. So the date for the short-term rental workshop is  Wednesday, February 10, 2021, at 7pm.

Mr. Murray said he was assuming that this meeting would be to solely to discuss verbiage for short-term rentals. “We’re not going to touch the current B&B ordinance,” he said. “And if you remove home-occupation from the ordinance, it’s a completely different animal.”

Ms. Leclerc said, “So there is no confusion we are going back to square one and decide on an ordinance for short-term rentals.” Short-term rentals is the terminology that is going to be used, not Airbnb because that is a brand name.

Other matters: Two scheduled public hearings on two separate ZBA ordinances were postponed at the December Planning Board meeting until in-person meeting could be held. Ms. Leclerc said she thought that the Planning Board would hold a hearing for the sign ordinance that had been modified to include feather flags. Ms. Leclerc agreed with a request from Selectman Mr. Dalessio when he requested she wait until in-person meetings could be held. She thought it was only for the short-term rental ordinance but it was suggested that maybe it was misinterpreted to mean both ordinance hearings. Anyway, once there are in-person meetings, the ZBA will approach the Planning Board for a public hearing on the modified sign ordinance. And the ZBA Board will begin anew to work on the short-term rental ordinance at a workshop in early February.

Flags: Mr. Sellarole asked about if the ordinance that dealt with feather flags also pertained to flags like the American flag. Ms. Leclerc said that the ordinance dealt with flags that were used for commercial reasons. 

Trac phone: The Town purchased a Trac phone to share among all Walpole boards having Zoom meetings so no board member has to give out a personal telephone number. Mr. Sellarole agreed to be in charge of the phone at the next ZBA meeting, which would mean that since the meeting was the day after the regular February Planning Board meeting, Mr. Sellarole would get the phone from Mr. Jeff Harrington and return it to the Town Offices.

There being no further business, Mr. Sellarole made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Mr. Edkins seconded the motion and by individual voice vote, Mr. Murray, Mr. Sellarole, Mr. Edkins, Ms. Mansouri and Ms. Leclerc agreed.

These minutes are unapproved and will be reviewed at the February 2021 meeting for corrections, additions and/or omissions. 

Respectfully submitted,

Marilou Blaine

ZBA Secretary

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