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Medical Offices operating w/out approval in residential zone and generating parking problems. Please ENFORCE!
Application to change the zoning status was made several months ago,in an effort to correct this situation.
Background facts: The speech and physical therapy, and psychological services offices now at this location follow a succession of zoning-approved commercial occupants going back at least 20 years. The current tenants applied for updated approval months ago, when they first became aware that the already long-established commercial zoning did not cover their specific use. They have every desire to be in full compliance and are taking all possible measures to pursue the necessary process with the zoning board. It is a misstatement that these offices are generating parking problems. In fact, street parking is not adversely affected because the building has its own small, but adequate, off-street lot – for which updated approval has also been applied.
Parking is indeed a problem mostly due to the fact that the offices are open and staffed in the late afternoon and evening till 8:00 p.m.--exactly at the same time that the occupants of the 3-family houses on Central (many without any off-street parking) are getting home from work. Because they are doing family counseling, I am told that some families are showing up in multiple cars. I have no first hand knowledge of this, but a neighbor to the property does and described it as a "Yale Bowl Game" situation when she gets home from work. She has a small child and frequently cannot park near her house. She feels the parking has gotten completely out of control recently. I have certainly seen people in a ten house radius who regularly park their vehicles on their front lawns and over the sidewalks in warmer weather. I can't understand this claim of no complaints since there were several people who testified about the
parking problem at the last public hearing on this property. The applicants
are proposing a use that is not permitted in the zone and that requires 25
parking spaces on that lot--it is simply too much in a residential zone. The other thing to keep in mind is that this is a use variance which means if it is approved, it is permanent.
Also for background, no office of any kind has ever, in the history of the
property, legally occupied this building. The real estate broker never
complied with the conditions of their approval to occupy the building, and
then went on to knowingly rent space for other uses not permitted by law.
NONE of the uses currently present on the site are permitted in that zone.
Zoning laws are a basic property protection that we, as a neighborhood,
relied on when choosing where to buy and live. This is not a neighborhood
convenience which, I think everyone would welcome, but medical offices that
could, and should be located elsewhere. If this is approved, we are
simultaneously undermining our residential character AND the economic health of Westville Village which has several vacant spaces zoned for office use.
I’m not a land use or zoning expert. So I thank goodness there is someone in our neighborhood who understands the fine points, can help connect the dots, and is willing to present a logical case against this zoning variance.
Parking – the variance for use as a MEDICAL facility would normally require 3 spaces per doctor/practitioner, not per salesman as stated in one comment. With 8 practitioners, and a renter on the second floor, that would mean 25 spaces. The application calls for legalizing the existing 6 spaces that never were reviewed by zoning. Should 8 doctors/practitioners/their patients/tenants ever be there simultaneously, the parking overflow would be relegated to the streets. If these practitioners are as effective as testimony indicates, the potential is there for this to happen. Parking is already tight after 4:00 p.m.
The applicant stated that she started her efforts to be in compliance when she discovered last summer that her use was illegal. However, the application I saw is dated January 30, 2009. Interesting to note that two local politicians wrote letters supporting this application back in December, both mentioning Ms. Engel – who is NOT listed on the “special exception” or “use variance” applications. It’s also interesting to note that therapeutic services have moved to the first floor in advance of approval by the zoning board. It would appear that someone is pretty confident they will win this.
Which brings me to another point. The reporter for the Independent speaks of 25 supporters, and 6 opponents. To be fair, it should be noted that opponents like me didn’t learn of the zoning hearing until early March and only then by word of mouth, leaving very little time to gather the troops. Had we started in December, there would probably have been far more opposition at the zoning board hearing. It also appeared that many of the supporters at that hearing were clients/patients, not neighborhood residents.
If this application is approved, the tenants benefit, but only until they leave; the zoning variance stays with the building and any negative impact with the neighborhood. The comments to the Independent article say the landlord didn’t tell the tenants their use was illegal, and they proceeded assuming it was legal. It is now up to them to jump through hoops to change their situation; the benefit would inure to someone who wasn’t upfront to start with, though I’d love the landlord to weigh in on this point.
Much has been said about the wonderful services that both Dr. Akbar and Ms. Engel provide to the community. I have no doubt of that, but this isn’t about their competence or personalities; it’s about making a change to zoning that would be with that building forever. That’s a long time. Once a major change like this is allowed, to would be difficult not to use it as precedent both here and elsewhere in Westville.
One gentleman at the hearing on the 10th spoke about it being easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission. Indeed! What’s next?
My husband I lived in a “mixed use” building in Fair Haven. We loved the house and the neighborhood, but at the time it was undergoing change and we felt we were too old to become urban pioneers. So, we moved to Westville where presumably the zoning was stable, and we wouldn’t be worrying about what would become of our neighborhood.
I’m not a land use or zoning expert. So I thank goodness there is someone in our neighborhood who understands the fine points, can help connect the dots, and is willing to present a logical case against this zoning variance. Great work Mrs. Hall.
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