The Zoning Board of Appeals shalll consist of five full members and three associate members appointed for staggerd three year terms by the Selectmen.
The Board shall hold public hearings to consider petitions for a variance or special permit and public hearings on appeals brought to the Board by anyone aggrieved by a decision of the Zoning Enforcement Officer or the Inspector of Buildings.
|Angelo Colasante, Chair
|Brian Gildea, Clerk
|R. Jeffrey Dearing
|Kenneth Gordon, Vice Chair
|Todd A. Crowley
|Margot Fleischman (Selectmen Liaison)
Zoning Board of Appeals Application
Zoning Board of Appeals Meeting Minutes
Zoning Board of Appeals Schedule
BEDFORD ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS GUIDELINES
The members and staff of the Bedford Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and the Zoning Enforcement Officer Christopher Laskey (781-275-7446) have prepared this guideline for your assistance in utilizing the appeals process in Bedford.
The Bedford Zoning Board of Appeals consists of 5 permanent members and 3 alternate members who are Bedford citizens appointed by the Bedford Selectmen. The ZBA is a quasi-judicial body that acts on behalf of the Town. The function of the ZBA is to act on petitions from a local citizen or interested party, who wishes to seek approval within or relief from the provisions outlined in the Bedford Zoning Bylaws, Sign Bylaws, or perhaps appeal the Zoning Enforcement Officer's interpretation of the regulations presented in the Bedford Zoning and Sign Bylaws. The Zoning Board also handles Comprehensive Permit applications, better known as Chapter 40B projects for affordable housing. Petitions are generally heard on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of each month but, at times, may change due to holidays, weather emergencies or legal requirements. Notices of the hearings are advertised in the Bedford Minuteman under "Legal Ads" and are posted on the bulletin board in Town Hall and on the Town website under "Zoning Board Agendas." The petition can be viewed by the general public at the Code Enforcement Office located on the first floor of Town Hall. You and/or your professional representative will be asked to appear on behalf of your petition.
These guidelines are divided into four sections:
Types of Permits Granted by the Zoning Board
Before Applying to the Zoning Board of Appeals
The Public Hearing
After the Zoning Board's Decision Has Been Filed
TYPES OF PERMITS GRANTED BY THE ZONING BOARD
There are four (4) principal reasons why you may petition the Zoning Board of Appeals.
1. Special Permit ~ The Zoning Board of Appeals may consider a petition to grant a Special Permit allowing you to develop a project on your property that is shown to include a legal non-conforming use or structure or property that is legally non-conforming in some dimensional way. This means that your property was legally created and/or a structure/use was legally created on your property at a time that predates the passage of the Zoning Bylaw or predates amendments/changes to the Zoning Bylaw. Also, there are some uses and special circumstances that require Special Permits before the applicant can move forward with the building permit process; including but not limited to, certain signs/signage conditions (under the Sign Bylaws), certain home occupations, parking of certain commercial vehicles in residential neighborhoods, etc. The Zoning Board of Appeals has more subjective authority here than with Variances. It is not necessary to prove a case of hardship; however you will have to convince the Board members that what you propose will not be substantially more detrimental to the neighborhood in which you reside nor will the proposed change be seen as derogating from the intent and spirit of the Zoning Bylaw. The documentation required for a petition for a Special Permit is the same as required for a Variance. If granted, a Special Permit not exercised within two (2) years from the date it was granted shall lapse and may be re-established only after a new hearing before the Board.
2. Variance ~ The Zoning Board of Appeals may consider petitions to grant a variance that will provide you relief from the dimensional regulations contained in the Bedford Zoning Bylaw. A variance is required when your property (both land and structures) conforms to the current Zoning Bylaws and your proposed project does not meet the dimensional requirements set forth under the current zoning bylaws; it should be noted that the Zoning Board of Appeals cannot grant use variances. If granted, variances not exercised within one (1) year from the date it was granted shall lapse and may be re-established only after a new hearing before the Board.
In making a determination on a particular petition, the Board members, among other things, look at the following elements to guide them through the variance process: there are special circumstances or conditions applying to your lot or structure which are peculiar to that lot or structure and which do not generally apply to other lots or structures in your neighborhood; these special circumstances or conditions have not resulted from any willful act of the applicant or the willful act of a previous owner of the property; because of these special circumstances or conditions, a variance is necessary for your reasonable use of the lot or structure.
The Board members look at the following elements to help them determine if a variance request should be granted:
A. The variance should be the minimum adjustment necessary for a specific project; be prepared to demonstrate that the variance you seek is the minimum that is necessary to accommodate your project. For example, if the design of your proposed addition brings it to ten feet-six inches from your property line then a variance to allow the addition to be ten feet-six inches from the property line should be requested;
B. The variance is in harmony with the general purpose and intent of the Bedford Zoning Bylaws and does not conflict with other department's regulations and/or laws within the Town of Bedford;
C. The variance will not be injurious to your neighborhood or otherwise detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare;
D. The need for the variance is not based upon the nonconformity of neighboring lots, uses, buildings or structures or upon financial or economic hardship; financial or economic reasons are not a sufficient hardship to grant a variance and cannot be considered as such. For example, if the topography of your property will permit construction without the need for a variance, it is inappropriate for you to solely base your variance request on the fact that your construction expenses will be less if the variance is granted;
E. Demonstrate that there is a hardship on the land and that the unique topography of your property (i.e. ledge, wetlands, acute sloping of the ground) will not permit the improvement you want to make without the variance you seek. If there are other areas of your property that will permit the improvement without the variance, you must show why the improvement cannot be placed in that other area. Be prepared to discuss with the ZBA any alternative construction plans you may have explored.
F. If you are seeking a variance for an existing structure/improvement or lot, be prepared to demonstrate that you or your agents did not purposely create the non-conformity. For example, do not sub-divide a large conforming lot into two smaller, non-conforming lots and then seek a variance to allow a dwelling to be constructed on each of those two smaller, non-conforming lots;
Although a site visit is not typical or legally required, members of the ZBA may want to visit your property and walk the site if the information provided is unclear or it allows the members to gain a better perspective for the request. This site visit may occur prior to the public hearing or during an active hearing, meaning that the hearing would be continued and the Board members would do a site visit in the interim before the next meeting date. It is not necessary that you be present for the visit, but please try to contain animals that may interfere with the site inspection.
3. Overturn Zoning Enforcement Officer's Decision ~ Members of the Zoning Board of Appeals may consider a petition to overturn the decision of the Inspector of Buildings/Zoning Enforcement Officer. The Inspector of Buildings/Zoning Enforcement Officer is charged with enforcing the Bedford Zoning and Sign Bylaws. While there are times when the language within the bylaw is very clear, there may also be times when language may be considered subjective and open to interpretation. In either case, if a person does not agree with or is aggrieved by a decision or action made by the Inspector of Buildings/Zoning Enforcement Officer related to zoning/signage matters then they have the right to petition the Zoning Board of Appeals to appeal or overturn his decision. While decisions that the Inspector of Buildings/Zoning Enforcement Officer make after issuing a building permit and related to zoning issues can be appealed to the Zoning Board of Appeals, you should develop a sound case before proceeding with a petition. The official whose decision you are appealing may be in attendance at the hearing to offer the reasons for making his decision.
4. Comprehensive Permits (Chapter 40B Projects) ~ The Zoning Board of Appeals is the permit granting authority for all comprehensive permit applications. Comprehensive permits are governed through M.G.L. c.40B, which was established by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to facilitate the development of affordable housing in Massachusetts. If a community does not meet the 10% threshold for affordable housing as defined by these rules then a developer can apply to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a comprehensive permit involving affordable housing. The Comprehensive Permit Rules of the Bedford Zoning Board of Appeals are available under separate cover from the Code Enforcement Office.
BEFORE APPLYING TO THE ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS
If you must appear before the Zoning Board of Appeals you may start the process by visiting the Code Enforcement Office to pick up an application packet to petition the Bedford Zoning Board. The application/petition must be completed and must include a set of documents prepared by you and, when necessary, an engineering professional. The documents must be presented in sufficient detail that the Board members fully understand the nature of your petition. In cases where appropriateness for a particular neighborhood or setting is a factor in the Board's decision, a set of preliminary elevation drawings should be included with your petition. The packet also includes an "Abutters List" sheet which you fill out and submit to the Assessors Department along with a small fee. Within a few days, the Assessors Department will give you two (2) sets of mailing labels with the required abutters to your property that must legally be notified of your upcoming public hearing; these mailing labels are to be submitted with your application to the Code Enforcement Office. Also included in the packet is a "Legal Advertisement" sheet. Under the Bylaws, the applicant assumes all costs of advertising for the public hearing thus the Legal Advertisement sheet must be filled out and signed by you to authorize the local newspaper to bill you directly for the cost of advertising the public hearing in the newspaper for two (2) successive weeks as required by law. Once all of this information has been gathered you will submit your petition, along with the appropriate filing fee, to the Code Enforcement Office. It is there that the petition packet is reviewed by staff and if everything is in order, the petition is clocked in at the Town Clerk's Office to officially start the public hearing process.
IMPORTANT NOTE ~ Any petition for a variance or application for a special permit which has been transmitted to the Zoning Board of Appeals may be withdrawn without prejudice by the petitioner prior to the publication of the notice of a public hearing thereon, but thereafter be withdrawn without prejudice only with the approval of the Zoning Board of Appeals.
THE PUBLIC HEARING
Once the petition has been accepted, the Zoning Board of Appeals must hear your petition within sixty-five (65) days. In almost all cases, petitions are heard well before the sixty-five days; however, there may be times when, due to lack of a quorum, weather emergency, holidays, etc., the petition hearing must be postponed or continued to a future date. Even when this happens, the sixty-five day "clock" is still running. Typically, petitions are heard by the Board within thirty (30) days of accepting the petition.
As noted above, the nature of the petition must be advertised in a local newspaper once in each of two successive weeks; the first publication to be not less than fourteen (14) days prior to the date of the hearing. It is also required to legally notify all abutters or "parties of interest"; those being the petitioner, abutters, owners of land directly opposite on any public or private street or way, and abutters to the abutters within three hundred feet of the property line of the petitioner as they appear on the most recent applicable tax list. Both the legal advertisement and legal notification of abutters is handled by the staff of the Code Enforcement Department.
On the night of the public hearing, you or your representative must be present to present your petition to the Zoning Board of Appeals. The Zoning Board Chairman will open the meeting; if there are only 4 members present, the Chairman will inform the public that typically the Board consists of 5 members, but business may be conducted with four and it takes 4 out of 5 members to pass a petition, or 4 out of 4 when there are only 4 voting members. In a 4 member scenario, when your name is called you will be given a choice to either continue the hearing to another night and wait for a 5 member board or move forward with your hearing knowing that you need a unanimous vote to approve your petition. If you move forward then you will be asked to describe the nature of your petition and the details of your project. Each Board member has a copy of your petition and information to reference as you make your presentation and may ask you questions about your project.
After you are done with your presentation, the Zoning Board Chairman opens the hearing to the general public; it is at this time that people in attendance have the opportunity to ask questions or comment on your petition. They may be your neighbors or people who may have a general interest in your project and they may speak for or against it for one reason or another or simply ask for clarification on certain aspects of your project. All public questions/comments are directed through the Chair; discussion between the applicant and the public are discouraged.
Once all questions have been answered, the Board will decide if sufficient information has been presented to render an informed decision. If, during the public comment period, it is determined that more information is needed then the Board will vote to continue the hearing to allow you to get that information to the Board at a future public hearing. However, if the Board feels that sufficient information has been presented then they will close the public hearing and no further comments or new information will be allowed by the general public and/or you unless the Board needs to clarify point(s) made during the public comment period or information submitted.
Based on the information discussed and submitted, the Board will then deliberate and discuss the proposed project and whether or not it meets the legal criteria of the zoning bylaw or sign bylaw or other applicable regulations. A Board member will then make a motion to vote to approve your petition. Once the motion is seconded, the Board will take a vote. Each Board member will either vote YAY (or YES) to approve your petition or NAY (or NO) to deny your petition. Once the vote is taken, the Board then has fourteen (14) days to write up the decision and file it with the Town Clerk's Office.
IMPORTANT NOTE ~ If the Zoning Board approves your petition it does not mean that you now have a building permit or can start your building project. The Board is simply granting relief from the zoning bylaw which then enables you to start the building permit process through the Code Enforcement Office.
AFTER THE ZONING BOARD'S DECISION HAS BEEN FILED
Any person aggrieved by a decision of the Zoning Board of Appeals or by the failure of the Board of Appeals to take action concerning any appeal, application or petition within the prescribed sixty-five (65) days from receipt of notice may appeal to the Land Court or the Superior Court in which the land concerned is situated, by bringing an action within twenty (20) days after the decision has been filed in the office of the Town Clerk. Such appeal is also to be filed with the Town Clerk.
Here is the final step in the Zoning Board of Appeals process. If your petition was approved and once the twenty (20) day appeal period has passed without an appeal, you are required to record your decision with the Registry of Deeds. To do this, you must go to the Town Clerks Office and obtain the official zoning decision along with a letter from the Town Clerk stating that the twenty (20) day appeal period has ended and that no appeals have been filed. You then must take that paperwork to the Registry of Deeds to record the decision. After paying a recording fee, a staff person at the Registry will record your decision and you are given a receipt as proof that the decision has been recorded ~ make sure you save this receipt for your records!
You may then proceed with applying for your building permit with all the required documents, including your receipt from the Registry of Deeds, and submit these to the Code Enforcement Office for a building permit.
No appeal, application or petition which has been denied by the Zoning Board of Appeals shall be acted favorably upon within two years after the date of final denial unless the Zoning Board of Appeals finds, by a vote of four out of five members, specific and material changes in the conditions upon which the previous denial action was based. Before the applicant/owner can reappear before the Zoning Board however, a separate hearing of the Planning Board must be held in which four out of five members of the Planning Board consents thereto and agrees that there are specific and material changes in the conditions upon which the Zoning Board's previous denial action was based.
IMPORTANT NOTE ~ It is extremely important to understand that the burden of proof relative to any petition in the Board of Appeals process is on you, the applicant, and the professionals that are working with you. Petitions that do not include all required documentation will not be scheduled for a hearing until complete. The Zoning Board of Appeals represents the Town and therefore it is not the job of the Appeals Board members to justify your petition, but merely to vote on the merits of the petition before the Board.