[GDT Editorial: "
Following is the statement of Greg Blaha, abutter, which he read at the meeting of the Rockport Planning Board, during a public hearing in the case of a Site Plan Review for a residence at
129 Granite St.
Planning Board Meeting 4/18/13
Continued Hearing re: Site Plan Review for proposed Roma III project at
129 Granite St.
Good evening and thank you for the opportunity to speak.
I am Greg Blaha of
133 Granite St. I spoke at the last meeting on April 4th
and want to note that my wife Sarah and I greatly appreciate the encouragement and
support that has been extended to us by our neighbors – it’s good to know that
so many share our concerns.
Tonight’s meeting is extremely important, because it not only affects all in this room, but could be a turning point for our town of
. At the last meeting, we voiced concerns and
made some suggestions as to the need to minimize the adverse impacts of the
proposed project - there are many. I
would like to be more specific on some of these issues tonight. Rockport
As noted at the last meeting, we are alarmed by the pace and manner in which this project has been conducted so far, and we have grave concerns going forward.
Since the last meeting, an attempt was made last week to circumvent the Site Plan Review process by obtaining a demolition permit for this project - despite the fact that Site Plan Review is not complete. Demolition is included under Site Plan Review Section E.1.f. in our town bylaws, and in this case, would also fall under additional land disturbance – clearly the purview of Site Plan Review. We have appealed the decision of the building inspector to issue any permit prior to completion of Site Plan Review to the Zoning Board of Appeals. We request that the town be vigilant in ensuring that all appropriate processes are followed. We again submit that the Rockport Conservation Commission may also wish to revisit its decision regarding the Roma project. We also note that as of Tuesday this week, no new or revised plans were available to the public at the Town Clerk’s office for review prior to this hearing.
It is our understanding that to date Roma
III has not filed a
complete Site Plan application with your Board.
In order to avoid any confusion we ask you to rule clearly, for the
record, that the time limit for Site Plan Review has not yet begun to run
because you have not received a complete application from Roma III.
Site Plan Review is a very important process. Once a project triggers Site Plan Review, it allows towns to scrutinize large-impact projects such as this, according to criteria that would not usually be applied to smaller projects. It also allows towns to impose restrictions – including dimensional requirements - that may exceed minimum zoning requirements.
There is an important example of such a case several years ago in
v. Planning Board of ),
in which a very large brick single-family house was proposed. We provided a written summary of this case at
the last meeting. The town successfully used Site Plan Review to impose
dimensional requirements – including requiring increased setbacks of 30 feet
(compared to the 8 foot minimum stated in the zoning laws), and to require that
the home be faced with clapboard or shingle, rather than brick. This case has since been cited in subsequent
legal cases in other towns, and the courts in Marblehead have repeatedly upheld the
right of town planning boards to use Site Plan Review to lessen the negative
impacts on neighborhoods of proposed projects such as the one before us
tonight. A letter by Rockport Town
Counsel dated Feb 7, 2012 references this case, but does not discuss follow-up,
specifically that the case has been upheld and sited [cited] many times since
In addition to the requests we made in our remarks at the last meeting, we request the following specific conditions regarding the proposed construction which are relevant to site plan review.
Land disturbance/Blasting/Stone walls
Section H 1.0 requires that projects “Minimize the amount of “disturbance of land” … minimize the need for blasting, the number of removed trees 24 or more inches in circumference, the length of removed stone walls, … minimize soil erosion, impermeable surfaces and any threat of air, water, or noise pollution.”
Given the stated objective to “Minimize the need for blasting,”
- Please minimize blasting which may threaten surrounding homes, their foundations, yards, stone walls, existing water and sewer lines, and the coastal bank
- Please do not allow the extra blasting proposed in order to have a full basement and to evade height restrictions and build a taller, bigger structure
Regarding the other objectives detailed in section 1.0,
- Please require more specific justification for the significant amount of land disturbance and over 200 ft of concrete retaining walls on what is currently mostly level land
- Please require that historic stone walls along our property line be protected and any concrete retaining walls not be visible
- Please require preservation of mature plantings – especially trees along our property lines
Section H.1.2 of Site Plan review states there should be efforts to “Minimize obstruction of scenic views.”
- Please take into account the location and size of structures and plantings in such a way as to minimize the adverse impacts on scenic views
- Please ensure neighbors’ ongoing access to sunlight – especially southern exposures in garden areas - and open air.
Amount of paved surface
Covered under section 1.0 ‘minimize…impermeable surfaces’ and section 1.3 ‘Minimize paved surfaces’
- Please require less paved area, possibly a permeable driveway, such as shell or gravel to decrease the amount of blacktop
Character and Scale
Item H.1.7 of the goal of Site Plan Review is to “Minimize departure from the character and scale of buildings in the vicinity as viewed from public and private ways and places, and abutting property.”
As to character:
- Please require that the proposed structure be shingle, shake and/or clapboard, not brick. (as in the Muldoon case in
Regarding Scale, we request that the Planning Board:
- Limit the height of any structure to a true 2.5 stories, and not allow 3 stories, or any enormous ‘half-story’ that is in itself larger than an entire ‘large’ house in the surrounding area
- Limit the total height to a maximum of 30 feet and disallow the excessive blasting that has been proposed to get around the height restriction
- Limit the overall size and scale of the building beyond the minimum required by zoning, taking into account the scale of residential homes in the surrounding neighborhood
- Impose dimensional requirements by requiring all setbacks to be at least 25 ft, as allowed under
Massachusetts law, as in the case Marblehead
In addition to demolition being covered under Section E.1.f of the site plan review, section
H 1.8 states the objective to ‘Minimize any aspect of the development that could constitute a nuisance due to air and water pollution, flood, noise, odor, dust, or vibration.’ Pursuant to this,
- Please require that all utilities, air conditioners, and other mechanicals be clearly shown on the site plan. Please require that air conditioner condensers and other mechanicals which are sources of noise pollution as well as being unattractive be located well away from neighboring property lines
- Please require a detailed plan to limit dust, debris, noise, etc and other impacts on neighboring properties
- Please limit work done on Saturdays during the summer season, such as no blasting, and no excessive noise, dust or mess
- Please require that abutters be contacted when their property is damaged – as ours has been already – by activities associated with this project, and require that a simple and timely process be in place for complaint resolution
- Please require that more detailed information be made available to neighbors/abutters as to construction staging and timing.
We remain very concerned that easements over our property are being used inappropriately to access the combined lot at
129 Granite St..
Mr. Roma has misstated the easements running over our property in the materials
submitted by him to the Planning Board. We have attempted, without success, to
schedule a meeting with Roma III
and our respective lawyers. Tonight we
again ask Roma III to sit down
with us and our legal counsel to address the issues we raised with Roma III, through counsel, in writing, more than two
weeks ago. We would appreciate an
opportunity to work together to resolve these issues.
The Planning Board should stipulate in their Site Plan conditions that all access to/egress from the worksite, and access to and from the completed residence, be exclusively via
129 Granite St’s
own frontage on Granite St. In addition, all vehicles, persons, construction
equipment, and materials should be contained within 129 Granite St at all times.
It was noted at the last meeting that the Rockport Planning Board has conducted Site Plan Review for other large homes, but this case includes unique challenges. This proposal is not for a compound on a secluded many-acre lot. It is a proposal for a massive private home situated in a densely populated, residential neighborhood. The proposed appearance is a huge deviation from the surrounding neighborhood. And the home will be extremely visible – from Granite St/Route 127, from at least 91 other residential parcels (by their own calculation), from the neighboring Yankee Clipper Inn, from downtown Rockport/Bearskin Neck, and from the water. Because of its immense size, location on a main road and jutting out into Sandy Bay, and the fact that it will not (as currently designed) blend in with its surroundings, this structure could become the most prominent landmark on Rockport’s coastline – is this what Rockport wants to be known for?
If you do not act to impose reasonable limits – of size, of materials, and of access, you will have established a dangerous precedent that has the potential to change the character and appearance of Rockport. Rockport reaps great rewards – measurable in real dollars to local businesses and local workers -- from its character, its appearance and its architecture. We should not risk this.
This is not about whether homeowners have the right to build a home on property they own – they do. But processes such as Site Plan Review exist for good reason, and when a project triggers site plan review, it should be examined very closely. This is about whether one owner should be allowed to impose such a huge and negative impact on our neighborhood, our town, and its future. By acting – or failing to act – this Planning Board is making a choice about the future of Rockport.
Our Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled that local planning boards can use Site Plan Review to alter the course of unfortunate situations like this. I urge our Planning Board to please do so. Planning Boards are legally allowed to impose dimensional requirements on a project that are more restrictive than those contained in local bylaws; they are also allowed to require the use of building material - such as clapboard or shingle - that are in keeping with the character of the neighborhood. They are allowed to impose conditions in all the areas described under Site Plan Review in our bylaws.
Please do this. Please protect our neighborhood – increase the setbacks, limit the height and size of the building, preserve neighborhood views of the water and from the water, help maintain peace and quiet, limit access to the ample, available frontage on Granite Street, and require materials that are in keeping with the character of the Rockport we love.
We sincerely hope that the Planning Board will recognize that it alone has the opportunity and the responsibility to protect our Town from the caprice of a newcomer who has the money to build what many might consider an outsize house, right smack on Rockport’s Atlantic shoreline.
Mr. Roma has the right to build a huge home, but Site Plan Review requires due consideration be given to how the proposed structure fits into the neighborhood. As one abutter said at the Planning Board hearing on April 5th, this building “looks like a Marriott.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with Marriott hotels, but right next to Mr. Roma’s proposed home is an actual inn, The Yankee Clipper, that indeed does fit in with the “character and scale of the neighborhood.”
We hope that Mr. Roma will realize that the other 7500 residents of Rockport are not just yokels in “The Peanut Gallery”, but citizens who love our Town.
Samuel W. Coulbourn