Plan to Build Two-Family Home on East Avenue Stalls at ZBA

An application for a variance that would allow a two-family residence on East Avenue to replace a 1900-built single family home there was continued Monday night after town officials expressed concerns over the proposed driveway and pedestrian access way included in the project.

On its face, property owner William Panella’s request for a variance for 72 East Ave. is straightforward: The applicant is requesting relief from the residential Zone B requirement for a minimum 100 feet of street frontage, as the property only allows for about 93 feet of frontage, and to allow the driveway from East Avenue to connect with another driveway and parking lot for an adjacent commercial property on Vitti Street.

Panella plans to tear down the existing 1,400-square-foot home, where his late mother Mary had lived, as well as the detached garage in the rear and construct a new, residential style, two-family dwelling measuring about 4,000 square feet.

Before the Zoning Board of Appeals on Monday, attorney David Rucci of Lampert Williams & Toohey LLC explained that he is, in fact, representing two clients on the project, William Panella, son of the late Mary Panella, whose property is the subject of the application, and Panella’s development partner, Art Collins, who is developing an adjacent property on Vitti Street, directly behind the property on East Avenue and in the town’s Business B zone (see map below).

Rucci said that Panella and Collins are working together to develop the property on East Avenue mainly because the Planning & Zoning Commission has expressed its desire to see properties located in the Business B zone on Vitti Street connected with the properties on East Avenue.

According to Rucci, the project on Vitti Street has already been approved. It includes a small medical office building along Vitti street and a small apartment building in the rear, with parking underneath the two buildings. He said ground was recently broken for that project.

While the project on Vitti Street was still in the approval stage, William Panella’s mother, Mary, who lived at 72 East Ave., passed away, creating an opportunity to not only build a two-family home on the property but also to create the connection with the Vitti Street property that the Planning & Zoning Commission desires, Rucci said. He explained that although the property on East Avenue is not in the Business B zone, the consultant that recently helped the town develop its master plan for the area recommended that East Avenue be included, thus the desire to make the connections.

Rucci said as per the consultant’s recommendations, P&Z is “trying to create connections between the properties,” including shared driveways and pedestrian walkways, as well as parks and open spaces.

Members of the ZBA, however, found fault with the driveway, which, as presented, would run through the rear of 72 East Ave. and into the parking area of the adjacent property at 23 Vitti Street. ZBA member Laura Edmonds said she felt that having the driveway and pedestrian access shared by two properties was a potential “hazard,” particularly because the driveway would partly run underneath the raised apartment building.

Interestingly, Rucci said the plans for the driveway and parking fall under the purview of P&Z, not the ZBA, but that they were included in the request for a variance only to give the ZBA more information on which to make a decision.

Rucci further pointed out that P&Z still has not approved the plans for 72 East Ave. and that the commission could still request changes in the design of the driveway and parking.

This created a problem for some members of the ZBA, including Angelo Ziotas, who said the board does not normally issue variances for site plans that are still subject to changes.

“Here’s the thing,” Ziotas said. “We normally approve variances based on the plans that have been submitted. Well, we’re being asked to give you a variance for a two-family [residence] without knowing for sure what kind of two-family you’re going to build… What I’m wondering is… why are we doing this backward?”

Rucci explained that approval of all two-family homes now falls completely under P&Z and that these projects require a special permit. He said in order to apply for the special permit, he needs to get the variance first.

Several ZBA members, however, said it was not normal procedure for the ZBA to grant variances on plans that could still change.

Rucci said even if the ZBA did grant the variances, “that does not mean we get the two-family—it does not mean we get the access way.

“We still need to go get a special permit from P&Z—they regulate what happens with two-family buildings,” he said. “But that’s a whole separate application – and it involves screening and access ways and all the things that they ask for.

Interim town planner Keisha Fink agreed with Rucci that the driveway and access way “really shouldn’t be a variance issue” and that it actually does not need to be part of the request for ZBA. Rucci reiterated that he is asking for “two changes that will allow us to get a two family residence in,” however, he conceded that when it comes to the driveway and parking, P&Z “may want us to do it another way.”

Edmonds concluded that she cannot vote in favor of a variance unless there is a condition that the driveway and pedestrian walkway be solely for the property on East Avenue and that it not connect with the property on Vitti Street.

ZBA member Ben Bilus suggested that it might be easier for the applicant to return with a new request that only focuses only the variance for the frontage and which “forgets all about this Vitti connection.”

Ziotas added that “all of this should have been approved by P&Z first,” meaning that the road and access way should have been approved by P&Z before the request for variance was made.

The applicant will return to the ZBA with the request for variance after discussing the matter further with P&Z.

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