Committee considers flag lots

The City Council’s Zoning, Planning and Development Committee began the process of evaluating the benefit of amending the city’s zoning requirement to allow creation of building lots not currently allowed.
At-large Councilor John J. Beltrandi III sponsored a motion to amend the zoning requirements that will create legal building lots that lack the frontage along a street. The present codes set a minimum street frontage for building lots in each of the city’s residential zoning districts.
The proposed flag lot ordinance would allow development of lots that do not have the required frontage, but do have access to a public way. The “pole” of the lot is the access, with the “flag” section of the lot, which is the larger area, where the house would be constructed, typically behind lots with adequate street frontage.
The Committee invited Beltrandi, Principal Planner Jay Vinskey, Shanna Reed of the Law Department, Marc Shute of D.L. Bean, Inc. and Rob Levesque of R. Levesque Associates to participate in the discussion last night.
“I think we’re trying to get a basic outline of what would be best for the city,” Beltrandi said. “I’d like to create something that makes sense, something that addresses the issue of flag or estate lots or both. We need to be aware that we have to make this workable. We’re starting from scratch, so we can include anything in this.”
At-large Councilor Brent B. Bean II, a member of committee, said that the ordinance “is not so restrictive that it would apply to only two or three lots. We need to be creating something that people can use.”
Shute, who has worked in several communities to permit lots lacking required frontage, said that the flag and estate lots are similar.
“They are essentially the same,” he said. “Flag lots tend to be smaller than estate lots. Typically flag lots require a 40-foot frontage, while estate lots, which usually are at lease five acres, require a 50-foot frontage.
“I think it is extremely important to do (either lot option) under a special permit so you have teeth in the ordinance,” Shute said. “Under the special permit process the permitting board can include provisions, such as a large landscaped buffer, to protect existing houses usually in front of the proposed lot. So I don’t think a by-right use is a good way to go.”
Levesque suggested that the special permit be granted through the Planning Board, which has more experience than the council, in dealing with development issues.
Shute said that under the existing zoning regulation a flag lot can be created, but requires an additional step. The Zoning Board of Appeals has the authority to grant a special permit or waiver from the frontage requirement. If that relief is granted, the petitioner then has to go through the planning board for special permit and site plan review.
Shute said that in other communities, the access, or pole of the flag lot, land where the driveway is located, is not included to satisfy the area requirement of the lot. Flag lots are usually required to be larger than the minimum lot size in that zoning district.
Shute said that the driveway is usually required to be in the middle of the “pole” and that fire departments require “bump outs” every 400 to 500 feet to allow emergency vehicles to get around other vehicles. The regulations in other communities also tend to include a turn-around or back-up area for emergency response vehicles and delivery trucks.
Bean also raised the issue of a common driveway serving two lots.
“The city would not be responsible for maintaining that street.  We would not be held liable,” he said. “But the city would still provide police and fire services.”
Levesque said that a common driveway option is often used in other communities when there is an environmental issue, such as disturbance of wetlands, when a common driveway reduces the impact of development.
Shute said that West Springfield recently adopted a policy of allowing a common driveway, but that it can access no more than two lots.
Vinskey said that emergency vehicle access is often an issue when flag or estate lot, especially those with long access driveways, is allowed.
At-large Councilor Brian Sullivan, chairman of the ZP&D Committee, requested Reed and Vinskey to study requirements for flag and estate lots, and for common driveways, in other communities, and bring the committee a menu of options.
“We can take the best of what is in other communities ordinances and by-laws,” Sullivan said. “If you could come up with a proposal, a sheet full of options, we can ask Marc and Rob to come back because they have practical application experience that we, as councilors, do not.

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