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Planning Board tables zoning fix


City Planning Board members are finding it’s not going to be easy to reverse the controversial zoning change pertaining to roommates.

So the Planning Board did not take any action Tuesday afternoon on what to do about the zoning change that brought city leaders criticism for trying to regulate lifestyles and living arrangements.

Planning Board members discussed the issue for about an hour on Tuesday, deciding that the city attorney’s office and city staff should figure out how to get out of the mess. They met with City Engineer Kurt W. Hauk and Kenneth A. Mix, the city planning and community development director.

Mr. Hauk told the board it will take some time to fix it.

“If we’re going to do it, let’s do the best we can, so we don’t have to go through this again,” Mr. Hauk told them.

The issue first came before the Planning Board in January after a homeowner, Deborah A. Cavallario, 259 Thompson Blvd., complained that her neighbor was living with his fiancee and two friends in the neighborhood of single-family houses that is zoned as a Residential A district. Mrs. Cavallario complained about the number of vehicles parked on Travis W. Hartman’s property. Since then, he married his fiancee.

In a 5-1 vote, the Planning Board removed language pertaining to roomers. In February, the City Council passed it. And then the zoning change became a public relations nightmare for the city that brought dozens of people to council meetings and elicited widespread criticism on social media platforms.

Supporters defended the change, contending the media blew the issue out of proportion. They also argued they were trying to protect Residential A districts from boarding and rooming houses.

On Tuesday, Planning Board Chairwoman Sara S. Freda and board member Lori J. Gervera, a local real estate agent, tried to explain why they voted for it in January.

“I don’t believe that homes in Residential A should be income generated,” Ms. Gervera said.

To try to correct what was done, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham directed the Planning Board to propose some changes regarding the so-called roommate law.

Last month, the mayor suggested restoring a sentence council members removed that allowed “no more than four nontransient roomers” and applied to “accessory uses in residential districts.”

In fact, taking out that reference about nontransient roomers actually caused more problems, Mr. Hauk said. By removing it, there is now actually no limit on the number who can live in a residence, he said.

“I think it did just the oppose of what council intended,” he said.

In addition to putting that language back in the city’s zoning code, Mr. Graham had suggested looking at another section pertaining to the definition of family. He has proposed keeping language that would allow “any number of individuals living together as a single housekeeping unit.” But he suggested removing the following language: “to distinguish it from a club, fraternity, or boardinghouse, not more than four members of a family shall be other than blood relatives.”

However, Mr. Hauk recommended on Tuesday that the issue of family definitions and roomers be treated separately.

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