Westover answers questions

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 6, 2005

The Westover Planning Commission recently approved a resolution to clarify the town’s zoning ordinance regarding the continued use of non-conforming structures.

However, an overflow crowd of citizens that packed the former home, which now serves as town hall, wanted answers to questions about the zoning ordinance and expressed frustration over the notification process.

While Planning Commission Chairman Michael Sampsell said everything that was legally necessary with regard to notification of the public was done, he agreed with the crowd to hold a public forum to discuss issues and help answer questions at a later date.

Westover Mayor Mark McLaughlin and Councilmember Jeanne Champion Fisch also remained after the meeting to help identify the zoning of residents’ property and answer questions about the town’s zoning ordinance changes.

On Dec. 21, the town of Westover adopted a zoning ordinance. However, the council requested the town’s Planning Commission resolve language specific to clarifying the continued use of non-conforming structures.

On May 17, however, the council went ahead with authorization of building permits to be issued for the repair and replacement of grandfathered structures.

Since the Planning Commission had recommended to the town council that non-conforming uses be continued, the commission voted unanimously at the June 28 meeting to make certain clarifications in the ordinance.

McLaughlin explained the problem to be resolved by the Planning Commission’s action.

“The ordinance said non conforming uses can be continued. Things that are here today can stay. It can be continued as long as it is re-established within a one-year period,” McLaughlin said.

However, he said, the ordinance also said if a structure were destroyed beyond 75 percent, it could not be replaced and that was a conflict the council did not intend.

He said when the town council found the conflict and voted that the intent had always been to allow for grandfathered residences, mobile homes, to be allowed to continue even if the property has been rezoned. The use would be whatever it was when it came into the town, he said.

He said the “focus” of the town’s zoning ordinance has been new growth, not about homes already here.

“Non conforming uses can continue,” he said. “Let’s say your manufactured home is deteriorating and you want to replace it … you can replace it.”

He also said if “you want to improve, you are allowed.”

He said the problem was the wording of the ordinance.

“Making it clear,” he said, is “on our agenda today.”

McLaughlin said if your residence is a manufactured home and you replace it within 12 months, that is now a part of the ordinance.

In answer to another question, Sampsell explained that if a home is destroyed, there is no $100 rezoning fee. But the fee applies when someone seeks a variance or rezoning action.

He also said one does not have to go to the county to get a rezoning application or building permit.

“We do all of that here at town hall now,” he said.

McLaughlin said rezoning fees are paid at town hall. However, he said, while building permits originate at town they must be taken to the county and the fee is paid there, as has been the case.

One resident stated that he has lived in his house the past 15 years and his family had lived in Westover 100 years.

He said of the town’s zoning ordinance, “I didn’t have any say and I don’t like it.”

Sampsell responded, “Apply for rezoning. Come to us, apply for a variance. You are not the enemy. I am (also) a landowner.”

As to complaints about notification of the public, Sampsell said, “All that was necessary was done.”

Jeff Muzer, a former member of the town council, suggested the citizens give the council a chance because they serve the town’s “best interest.”

One man said if he had known the zoning issues were going to come up when Westover became a town, he would just have wanted to let Chelsea take the area. He said, “We became a town to stop the growth.”

In answer to yet another question, McLaughlin said, if you have a residence in a commercial area and continue to live there, you can sell your property as a residence. And you can give it to your children.

When one person asked about chances of getting a rezoning or variance granted, Sampsell said, “We are the citizens of Westover. This is our town. We are going to treat existing citizens with major consideration.”

Following the meeting, one citizen said if the public had known what was happening they would not have been nearly as upset.

However, according to McLaughlin, “The zoning ordinance process started in Westover in 2003, and there were 12 community meetings and public hearings during 2004.