Board to revisit new school decision

WESTFIELD The Zoning Board of Appeals will meet Tuesday night to reconsider findings attached to a special permit issued for the proposed elementary school at the intersection of Ashley and Cross streets.
The ZBA approved a dimensional special permit for a reduction of side-yard set backs at its Nov. 16 session. That special permit was approved because two wings of the elementary school building will be less than the 20 feet side-yard setback required by city ordinance code.
A section of the south wing, facing Ashley Street will be within eight (8) feet of the St. Peter/St. Casimir Church property, while the middle wing will within 12 feet of the church property, specifically the parking lot which will be leased by the city for staff parking.
The ZBA voted unanimously to approve the dimensional special permit and attached three findings as part of that decision.
The Law Department advised the ZBA to modify those finding based upon case law, court decisions made when a decision is appealed. The findings are based on standards of review by the special permit granting boards.
The Law Department advises all special permit granting boards, which include the City Council, Planning Board and ZBA, to attach specific conditions and findings as part of the special permit vote.
Each of the four standards of review must be satisfied for special permit approval. The standards are is the specific site an appropriate location for such use, structure or addition; will the use, as developed, adversely affect the neighborhood; are adequate and appropriate facilities provided for the proper operation of the proposed use; and does the plan, as approved, conform to all rules and regulations unless specifically waived.
The ZBA found that the site is appropriate for a schools and that it will not adversely affect the neighborhood, standards one and two.
The ZBA is the only city agency with the authority to waive dimensional requirements of the city’s zoning ordinance codes, standard four.
However, the ZBA did not address standard three, the requirement for adequate and appropriate facilities, as part of its decision. The board discussed that requirement and decided it was not apropos to its core responsibility and felt it was a matter to be addressed by the Planning Board.
The recommended language, prepared by the Community Development Department, addressed parking and sidewalks between the school and church parking area, providing “facilities for safe pedestrian circulation for the dual usage of the church’s parking lot for school use.”
ZBA member Martin Newman argued that the board should approve the special permit, but that parking and sidewalk issues, the focus of the standard three finding, do not fall within the scope of the board’s authority.
“I can’t see anyway we can deny this application given the limitations of our authority,” he said. “This is an urban neighborhood, just two or three blocks from the city’s downtown. Urban planners encourage this type of use. A lot of kids will be able to walk to this school, which is certainly more efficient (than busing as required by suburban school sites).
“I see this more as we don’t have the authority to deal with parking issues,” Newman said. “Finding three is outside of our authority. We don’t have any information about the sidewalks, the required width. We’re talking about (a dimensional special permit for) a few feet at the back of the building.”
The ZBA will resume that discussion at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 29. The special meeting, which will not include a public hearing, is slated to take place in room 315 of City hall.

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