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Council convenes for final vote on ordinance changes

Ward 6 Councilor William Onyski. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

WESTFIELD – Ward 6 Councilor William Onyski, who chairs the Legislative and Ordinance sub-committee, thanked city councilors for attending a special meeting on July 13 for a second vote on changes to city ordinances before the clock ran out on the process.

The ordinance changes had originated in the Zoning Board of Appeals, gone through approval by the Planning Board and several city council committees before coming to the council for a vote.

The most discussed change was made to the definition of family for the purpose of city ordinances. During the Planning Board approval of the change, City Planner Jay Vinskey said the ZBA looked at other college communities and how they defined “family” in the ordinances. He said the ZBA recommended changing the definition of a family to four persons living together as a household.

Initially, the city council balked at changing the definition of family to four unrelated persons. During a public hearing in May, Vinskey said the ZBA had heard an appeal of an enforcement matter which hinged on that definition, and learned that the Law and Building departments couldn’t enforce the zoning law as currently defined.

“The board decided they need to bring the definition up to speed to contemporary use, and seeks to expand the definition of family from people who are related to include a group of four people not related operating as a single household unit on a non-transient basis,” Vinskey said, adding that the definition would be for zoning purposes only.

Vinskey said “family” would then consist of household occupancy as a group of four people. He said five to six people would be an equivalent of two-family for density and parking. He said they also looked at other college communities and found that Amherst and Northampton have the same type of language.

“I want a legal opinion from our Law Department. I have a real problem with the definition of a family as constituting four people,” said At-large Councilor Cindy C. Harris at the hearing.  She also asked why not eliminate the word family for the purpose of the ordinance. 

Westfield residents Sheila Tenero and Dan Tenero also called in during the hearing, saying they were in favor of the petition and are the couple that had appealed to the ZBA. She said the appeal was denied, but it did shine a light on what family is. “Family is not biology only. How do you legislate the use of land and dwelling based on DNA and marriage? We support this, it encompasses people that choose their family,” she said.

After being sent to Zoning, Planning and Development, the word family was switched to household in the ordinance. The change permits four unrelated people living together as a household, and does not alter the current definition of related family.

During the discussion of the changes in the L&O committee, Onyski said in the new definitions being added a single family dwelling would be changed to a building on a lot designed and occupied as a residence for one household; or two-family, a residence for two households living independently in separate units. A multi-family residence would be three or more households living independently in separate units on the same lot.  

A household is defined as persons living together in one dwelling unit consisting of either members of common occupancy, or related by blood, marriage or similar domestic partnership, legal adoption or guardianship. Domestic help, caregivers or up to three roomers may be considered common occupancy.

Onyski said the changes had been vetted through the Law Department and code enforcement, and the Building Department had approved it.

At the special meeting on July 13, the ordinance change passed unanimously on the second reading with no discussion.  At-large Councilor Richard K. Sullivan Jr. thanked the Teneros for their involvement in the process.

Also voted were changes to ordinances involving non-conforming lots, allowing more flexibility in certain circumstances.  Also approved was an ordinance change to allow the Council on Aging to host their meetings at the Westfield Senior Center.


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