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How to stop a variance

by Luanne Luongo
(TEKSBURY MASS)

One of what we'd like to save

One of what we'd like to save

Visitor Question: My town has been underhanded about a piece of property that the Catholic Church owns and now wants to profit off this land by building a complex. They want to change from 1/2 acre lots to 1/4 acre lots so they can fit more in.

A few issues are this is going to cause massive traffic issues and drive out a large wildlife population.

The town has not notified anyone in the neighborhood and we heard of the meeting by chance. We would want to ask for a traffic study and also see if we could get some help due to wildlife.

We need time because none of us knows how to go about stopping this. Can we get a postponement? If not how can we stop the variance from going thru? Do we have any recourse? Help please. We are just one of the abutters.

Editors Reply: It sounds as if the church wants to pursue a rezoning, not a variance. Terminology variations are possible though, based on the local zoning law, so we will answer both ways.

Almost everywhere variances are supposed to be awarded by a separate independent board (not your city, township, or county council). They also are supposed to be given only when the characteristics of a property present a unique hardship to the owner if he or she were to follow the zoning ordinance exactly.

So we certainly hope that the church isn't trying to increase the allowable density by means of applying for a variance. Density is a word that means either the dwelling units per acre or occasionally the number of persons per acre.

If you find out it is really a variance that is at stake here, you can read more about variances by doing a search of our site and selecting the page we have written on the subject. In most locations a variance does require that a notice be mailed to property owners within a certain radius of the property where the variance would apply, so you might have a little time to prepare.

Changes in density always should be allowed only upon a change in the zoning classification, in our opinion. You might have heard about someone being in a residential zone, or an R-1 or R-2 zone, for example. (If you need to understand quickly how the basics of a zoning ordinance work, do the search on this site using the term zoning regulations and pick out the page with that name.)

Providing the church is requesting a rezoning, you might have a bit more time to prepare and organize your neighbors. Almost everywhere, rezoning requires two different public hearings, the first one in front of a planning commission and the second conducted by a city (county or township) council. The planning commission is an advisory body, and the council makes the final decision.

We have a page on this site devoted to fighting a rezoning, so please read this article thoroughly. It will give you plenty of hints for what lies ahead.

As to whether your council might require a traffic study before approval, that probably depends on the scale of the development. If it involves hundreds of apartments or homes, that will be a reasonable request and one that at least the planning commission may sympathize with. If we are talking about 16 single-family homes instead of 8, however, your request for a traffic study is likely to fall on deaf ears.

Whether or not your town has respect for wildlife really depends on the local culture. Some city governments are highly sensitive to environmental arguments or just have a soft spot for animals, and others seemingly could not care any less.

We are going to leave our comments brief, because you have plenty of work to do. Other pages on this website will certainly help you.

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