CHATHAM – A boundary dispute prompted the planning board to reject a subdivision plan for a key parcel in the West Chatham village center.
Eastward Companies, which purchased the former Sibley property at 1610 Main St. earlier this year, filed a preliminary two-lot subdivision plan in May to freeze zoning on the 87,082-square-foot parcel. At the May annual town meeting, the West Chatham flexible development overlay district in the area was eliminated and zoning on the parcel was changed from small business to residential.
William Riley, Eastward Companies' attorney, said a commercial use is anticipated for the proposed lot at the front of the property, and a special permit will be sought from the planning board for residential use of the rear lot under the overlay district regulations.
“That's as far as we've gotten with our plans,” Riley said when asked for further details at last week's planning board meeting.
The company and town officials were criticized for allowing a 150-year-old Greek Revival home on the property, known as the Reuben C. Smith house, to be torn down without any review by the historic commission or historic business district commission. Both said the building's condition was so poor that it constituted a hazard and had to be razed. New buildings on the property will require HBDC review.
The parcel is sandwiched between town-owned open space to the east and a residential lot to the west. A new commercial building on the north side of Main Street in the West Chatham village center could have an impact on the dynamics of the neighborhood as well as plans to revamp the roadway and streetscape along the corridor.
With a disagreement over the property line with the Patterson family, which owns the land to the west, still unresolved, planning board members did not feel comfortable approving the preliminary plan.
“My point is there's a legal issue that's not resolved, and it really should be resolved before it comes to the board,” said Chairman Peter Cocolis. Until the dispute is resolved, the western property line can't be fixed, he noted.
Each of the two lots must have at least 20,000 square feet of buildable upland to meet zoning requirements, Riley said, and no matter what happens with the property line, that will be the case. He said the two owners are discussing swapping triangle-shaped chunks of the land containing about 2,600 square feet.
He said the board could vote on the preliminary plan, and if the boundary changes, modifications could be made later. The board must still approve a final subdivision plan, he added, before the land division is final.
“There's no defined boundary line. And that bothers me,” Cocolis said.
Judy Patterson, who owns the neighboring property with her brother, told the board that they object to approval of the plan until the dispute is settled.
Planning board member Robert Dubis said if the subdivision criteria is met, “it doesn't matter if the boundaries are disputed or not.” It's a legal issue, not a planning board issue, he said.
But a majority of the board disagreed and voted 1-3, with Dubis dissenting, to reject the preliminary subdivision plan.
The action doesn't change the fact that by filing the preliminary plan, Eastward Companies preserved the previous zoning on the land. For the property division to be legal, however, a final subdivision plan must be filed. That plan will require that the boundaries be finalized, Cocolis said.
“It's required, as far as I know,” he said.
Riley could not say whether the flexible district proposal would entail one or two buildings on the rear lot. “The planning board has very broad authority to grant relief from the minimum standards of the bylaw” under the flexible district regulations, he said. “We can't really make a firm proposal yet because we don't know exactly what we have for land.”