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Brookfield planners debate home occupation amendments

Evans appeals board's site plan waiver for Moose Mountain

July 16, 2009
BROOKFIELD — If anything gets things stirred up in Brookfield, it is debating the wording of any zoning amendment. At the last planning board meeting on Monday evening, July 13, the "hot button topics," as described by Chair Janet Murfey, were that of "home occupations" and "cottage industry."

Before a full room of interested residents, the planning board engaged in a public hearing on two proposed zoning ordinance amendments. The first was to insert "at any one time" after the current home occupation language "home occupations shall not be more than four" (Article II, A, 1, b). The intent of this proposal was to change the number of employees (other than the resident) working out of a home in Brookfield from four total to four at any one time, meaning a maximum of four people would be allowed to work on a property for the business at once. This language change would not limit the total number of employees a business owner may employ.

The second amendment proposed by the planning board was to insert "Cottage Industry: 1. A business in which goods are produced in the home for commercial use or sale. 2. Any small-scale, loosely organized industry" (Article X-Definitions). The objective of this amendment was to provide a clear definition of "cottage industry" within the zoning ordinance.

Concerns about the first proposed amendment grew out of the ambiguity of the four proposed words, "at any one time." Brookfield resident and former planning board member Frank Frazier commented that to him the idea behind defining cottage industry and home occupations is to "limit the scope of the enterprise," citing that many chain stores such as Dunkin' Donuts and the Puffin Stop run on only four people at a time. He disagreed with the proposed language stating that it is "not for traditional cottage industries zoning," but added that if Brookfield wants to allow for shops such as these, the town would need to develop appropriate zoning and not "simply add on in loose terms to the existing ordinance."

Dulcie Lavender agreed with Frazier that the intent of the ordinance would change with the proposed amendment. By restricting the number of employees, she said, the town is able to control the size of any one operation. Lavender added that home occupations are a "subset of commercial business" and if the community wants to allow for "broader commercial endeavors in town" it should be addressed separate from home occupations and cottage industry, necessitating new zoning ordinance language.

Pam Frazier added that the insertion seems like "a back door to commercialism."

On the other hand, Jim Murfey said that in his understanding, adding "at any one time" to the language "doesn't change the nature" or "expand the scope" of home occupations, but rather hiring opportunities.

Another resident added that some small businesses may require "many different skill sets" and thus require more than four employees to operate. One local business owner inquired about how this amendment would affect self-employed tradesman such as an electrician, plumber or contractor, who might have his or her crew meet at the beginning and end of the work day at the residence but work elsewhere. Janet Murfey responded that therein lies the difficult question of where does the line get drawn? And what should be allowed?

Planning board alternate Rob Collins reminded the board and public that there is no commercial zone in Brookfield. Therefore, home occupations would have to comply with the current residential and/or agricultural zoning regulations, and no Dunkin' Donuts or the like would be allowed under the current zoning. Planning board member Geary Ciccarone commented that this piece of legislation alone is not how the planning board governs, yet noted "specificity" as being key. He proposed in addition to the regulation, the board create a list, "no matter how long," cataloging exactly what kind of home occupations Brookfield will or will not allow.

After further discussion, Jim Murfey observed that obviously "a flaw has been identified with the possible adoption of these four words," and the board should wait until further discussion before voting on any changes. Frank Frazier agreed that the board should "take a longer look" at the proposed amendment and take into account the "broader picture and specificity." The board decided to wait on deliberation until the second amendment had been discussed.

The second proposed amendment, to insert a definition of "cottage industry" into the current zoning language, was then brought up by the board. Again, Frank Frazier commented that the language was "too loose" and allowed for a much broader context. Pam Frazier urged the board to consider surrounding towns' zoning ordinances and regulations, such as Wakefield's, "instead of reinventing the wheel." Diana Peckham noted that a "big part of zoning is protecting the impact on neighbors rather than the cottage industry itself." Ciccarone again added that the board should "increase specificity," adding, "Our job is to represent the wants of the people of Brookfield" not to govern "by ambiguous legislation." Ciccarone said that as a member of the home occupations/cottage industry subcommittee, he apologizes for "not being more explicit" on these proposed amendments. Due to a personal injury Ciccarone said he was "waylaid" for several weeks.

After some debate, including questioning the validity of the term "cottage industry" itself as defined in the amendment, resident and Conservation Commission Chair Sang Curtis questioned why the topic was still being discussed when it was admittedly not ready for adoption.

To that end, Vice Chair Tom Whelton made a motion to reopen the discussion of home occupations and cottage industry at the committee level, thus reactivating the subcommittee and overturning the decision made on June 22 to amend the zoning ordinance and present it to the public for the consideration as a warrant article. Among the sitting members, the board voted unanimously in favor of reopening the topic, tabling both amendments.

Organization and selection of the subcommittee will be discussed at the next planning board meeting. The planning board welcomes public participation in any of the planning board subcommittees and interested residents are urged to contact the board.

Other business

Chair Janet Murfey announced to the public that Craig Evans has appealed to the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) the planning board's April 27 decision to not require a site plan review from Moose Mountain Recreation LLC at this time. Murfey believes it is Evans' intention to have the ZBA overturn the ruling. Evans has voiced his belief that given the activity and work going on, the need for a site plan review has been demonstrated. The ZBA will be holding a hearing on Thursday, July 23 to discuss the matter.

In addition, Murfey received a phone call from Attorney Susan Slack saying that she had received notice from Baldwin and Callen PLLC of Concord that the same planning board decision is being appealed in Superior Court by Evans. Slack accepted the papers as of last Thursday, July 9, but the planning board has not yet received them.

Given the selectmen's recent decision not to renew Slack's contract as Town Counsel, the planning board has requested the resumes of both Slack and Laura Spector of Mitchell Municipal Group, P.A. for review. Spector has recently been hired by Brookfield selectmen as Town Counsel. Planning board members would like to consider both candidates before voting whether the board should remain with Slack or not. As of the meeting on July 13, the board had received the requested documents from Spector. They were awaiting documents from Slack.

The Recreation Zoning Subcommittee will be meeting this Monday, July 20, at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Offices. The Noise Ordinance Subcommittee will meet on Tuesday, July 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Offices. Interested residents are encouraged to attend.

The planning board will meet next on Monday, July 27, at 6:30 p.m. at the town offices to review home occupations and cottage industry as well as discuss its options for planning board attorney.

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