LENOX — In order to avoid a potential floor fight at the May 5 annual town meeting, the Planning Board will withdraw a proposed zoning revision that would have allowed animal day-care businesses to operate anywhere in town.
The decision to deep-six the item, part of a lengthy list of zoning tweaks up for action by voters, came on a 4-0 vote during a spirited public hearing this week.
After Land Use Director/Town Planner Gwen Miller listed the proposed changes designed to streamline and simplify the town's difficult to navigate zoning rules, prominent Lenox attorney Philip Heller, a specialist in zoning, land use and real estate development, objected to several "substantive changes" rather than procedural revisions that had been described in previous meetings.
"If the zoning bylaw is amended to include animal day care by right in any place in the town," he said, "you are going to create a situation where the value of homes will decrease substantially. It will be a fact."
Heller observed that he represents clients on the verge of purchasing a house who want to know what can be done in the neighborhood.
If the zoning change is approved, he warned that every attorney and real estate agent representing home buyers "must disclose to anybody buying a house in Lenox that their next-door neighbor could have 10 dogs, 15 dogs, 20 dogs in a day care for animals with no restrictions whatsoever. No setbacks, no noise restrictions, no [limits] on the amount of dogs at all."
Heller declared that "a percentage of people will not buy a house in Lenox if this bylaw exists," he said.
He proposed either striking the bylaw change completely since "there doesn't seem to be a great clamor for this type of use" or creating criteria such as a two-dog limit with no outdoor kennel.
"If you don't do it, you'll affect values in town, no question about it," Heller said.
"I think this is really opening a can of worms," said Realtor Mary Jo Piretti, owner of Piretti Real Estate, in support of Heller's arguments. She described a house in a neighboring town that has not been sold because a neighbor has 15 dogs.
Planning Board Chairman Kameron Spaulding asked the members to approve a motion to eliminate the animal day care proposal affecting the entire town when the zoning board revisions come up for discussion at the May 5 meeting.
The board agreed unanimously to the motion eliminating both the new use and the proposed definition in the potential zoning bylaw amendments.
Heller also criticized a proposal involving "inclusionary residential development zoning" as a substantial change.
"I think it's unfair for the board to hold out to the public that all this is going to be procedural when in fact you have significant structural and substantive changes," he said.
Miller suggested that revisions to the inclusionary zoning provision — which would require developers to include housing for low to moderate income buyers — be eliminated from the menu of proposed changes for the May 5 town meeting. It will be considered in the fall, she added. The board agreed on a 4-0 vote.
Heller also objected that the zoning revisions omitted required public hearings for zoning board proposals involving changes in rules and regulations.
He asked that new design standards for site plans continue to be voted on at the town meeting instead of being left to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Otherwise, he said, the ZBA would be burdened with a "huge responsibility and power" and design requirements could be revised based on changes in the membership of the board.
ZBA rules and regulations should be limited to basic procedures such as the election of a chairman and the posting of minutes, Heller added.
The board voted to accept his suggestion and eliminate the proposed change for now, giving the members more time to review the potential revisions to the Site Plan Approval section.
The zoning bylaw is posted at www.townoflenox.com and is available for inspection at Town Hall.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.