HOPKINTON — Citing a need to bring town ordinances regulating development in line with its new subdivision regulations and evolving state laws, the Town Council held public hearings on four ordinance amendments.
Town Planner James Lamphere, Planning Board Chairman Alfred DiOrio and board member Howard Walker, and zoning official Brad Ward were on hand at the July 7 meeting to explain how the amendments would change the way the town approves new residential and mixed use projects.
“Many of them were adopted back in 1990 before we had state enabling legislation, which is the Subdivision Enabling Act of ’92,” Lamphere said of the original ordinances. “There was old language that needed to be updated. A little bit of streamlining as well.”
Lamphere said the amendments were the result of work that began about a year ago, when officials realized they could not complete work on the subdivision regulations without first revising the ordinances.
“The planning board can only amend their regulations to the extent that they do not conflict with town ordinances, so in the course of looking at the ‘sub regs,’ we found that there were four ordinances that were intertwined. We took a look at those four and brought them into the 21st century,” he said.
The four ordinances govern residential compounds, cluster residential developments, planned unit developments and development plan reviews.
The residential compound ordinance regulates parcels of land that been divided into several lots with a single, private road joining them.
One amendment was necessitated by a change to state law that now allows slopes greater than 15 percent to be calculated in the total lot size, something that was previously prohibited by the town.
Another states that roads in residential compounds are privately owned and therefore must also be maintained by the property owners. The revised ordinance also requires that the developer submit an open space plan, a change that provoked some discussion among council members over whether the open space would be taxed and whether the planning board would retain authority over permitted uses for open space areas.
“There’ll still be tax revenue from that open space?” councilor David Husband asked.
Lamphere replied that the open space would be taxed with the rest of the property. He also noted that all uses proposed for the compound had to be submitted as part of the master plan review and any subsequent changes would have to be brought to the planning board.
The cluster residential development ordinance amendment encourages greater building density with smaller house lots, which use less land and leave more open space. It also streamlines the approval process by clearly defining the authority of the planning board.
“The proposed amendment brings Hopkinton into the present state of the way things are done,” Assistant Town Solicitor Scott Levesque said. “It puts the power with the planning board.
Resident Dorothy Gardiner objected to a provision in the amendment that places the burden on developers of conventional projects with larger lots to demonstrate why they would be superior to cluster projects.
“You really have to make this a choice rather than a requirement,” she said. “While it’s easy to say that you have to show the planning board that your development is superior, what you think is the best idea today will be the best idea tomorrow. I, as a landowner, would like to be able to have a choice, without having to get three Philadelphia lawyers and two independent planners to come and argue my case before the planning board.”
The third amendment changes the procedure for reviewing development projects requiring zoning changes to existing lots. The planning board would first review the proposal and then send it to the council for a public hearing on the requested zoning change.
“They know their concept will be acceptable to the planning board,” Levesque told the council. “Now they can go and spend the money and time before you to get the zone change they need to effectuate their project.”
The project would then go back to the planning board for the final review.
The fourth and final amendment also streamlines the development review process.
It requires that the applicant send a notice to property owners within 200 feet of the land in question before the pre-application meeting with the planning board. The planning board will have the authority to first decide if a project even requires further review or whether it is so large that it would have to be reviewed as a major land development project.
Council members unanimously agreed to adopt the four amendments at the next council meeting on July 21. Lamphere said the amendments would pave the way for the adoption of the town’s subdivision regulations.
“After the council adopts these on the 21st, we’re immediately going to proceed with getting our amended subdivision regulations adopted by the planning board. They don’t have to come back to the council now. The planning board will do that.”
The public hearing before the planning board on the subdivision regulations is scheduled for Aug. 13, and the board could approve them at its first meeting after Labor Day.