September 19, 2014

Board denies appeal of zoning violation

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Homeowner subject to $100-a-day fines

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The Development Review Board on Tuesday rejected an appeal from homeowners accused of violating town ordinance by installing a parking area in their front yard.

Scott and Miranda Roth, along with their neighbors, Forest and Erika White, received a citation last month after building what they considered a gravel turnaround in their yards. Both couples live along U.S. 2 in Williston’s historic district, which has strict rules designed to preserve its character and appearance.

The citation said the couples violated a rule that forbids parking spaces in the district’s greenbelt, the area between homes. It also stated that the couples failed to seek the required permit before laying gravel and enlarging the area.

Scott Roth told the Observer earlier this month that he felt that improving the parking area–he called it a turnaround – was routine maintenance, which is exempt under the ordinance and not subject to permitting requirements.

Roth pleaded his case during the board’s session Tuesday night. The Whites’ appeal is scheduled to be heard later this month.

Roth acknowledged that in hindsight he should have sought a permit. But he asserted that it was not a parking lot. “It’s not a parking space, it’s a turnaround,” he said, adding that he only occasionally parks in the space.

Zoning administrator D.K. Johnston, who issued the zoning violation, said it was in fact a parking lot and so was not allowed. “Quite simply put, parking isn’t a permitted use in greenbelt along Route 2,” Johnston said.

Roth claimed he was being unfairly singled out, saying there are several other turnarounds in front of homes in the historic district.

Board member Kelly Barland was not swayed by that argument, noting that the other turnarounds existed prior to the historic district’s establishment in 1988 and so were not subject to the ordinance.

Roth insisted that forcing him to remove it would create a safety hazard. He said traffic has increased greatly in recent years and without a turnaround he would have to back onto busy Route 2.

“If you find I can’t have a parking lot in front, I’m still going to have to turn around somewhere,” he said. “You can’t back onto Route 2. It’s not safe.”

There was also considerable discussion of the turnaround or parking area’s history. Both Roth and the town agreed it existed before the couple bought the house.

Roth said it was unfair to cite him for a violation that was there before he moved in. But board member Scott Rieley said improving and enlarging it triggered enforcement.

Roth offered to compromise by reducing the size of the turnaround, which he said is 26 feet wide and 20 feet long. He said it would be impossible to relocate it behind his home, which he claimed is not large enough and would force him to cut down a huge maple tree.

He also said making the change would cost thousands.

“I can’t afford $8,000 to put parking in the back – and that doesn’t include removing the tree,” Roth said.

Following the hearing, the board held a closed-door session to consider the case. After about 30 minutes, the board reopened the meeting and unanimously voted to reject the appeal.

Barland gave several reasons for the ruling. He said the town’s rules clearly forbid parking areas in the historic district’s greenbelt. He also said the fact that it existed before the Roths bought their house did not allow the couple to continue to violate the ordinance.

Johnston displayed photos of the Roths’ house that he said were taken in 1988 before the historic district was established. They showed there was no parking area in the front yard.

In its ruling, the board ordered the parking area removed within seven days of receipt of the formal notice of decision or else be subject to $100-a-day fines.

The appeal by the Whites, Roth’s neighbors, is scheduled to be heard by the board on July 24.

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