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Council Overturns Planning In Conservation Easement Case

Open-Space Issues, Cafe Seating Approved

While taxicabs and Windmill Hill Park got the most notice from City Council Saturday’s, three other issues dominated discussions: a request for a special-use permit (SUP) to build a house on an undersized lot, the request to have outdoor seating at a new Starbuck’s coffee shop at the corner of King and Union streets, and a request to fence a designated conservation area.

A homeowner at Dartmouth Place on North Quaker Lane requested permission from City Council to fence a designated conservation area. That request came following a denial from the Planning Commission. It was a matter of safety for the protection of his children, not an encroachment issue.

But before Council ruled on the request, arguments were heard.

“When the developer came to us, we worked out an agreement that he could build five houses instead of four if he agreed to set aside one third of an acre as a conservation area,” said Jack Sullivan, a member of the Seminary Hill Civic Association. “This is in-fill development, and the only way that we could retain any of the wooded area was to negotiate this agreement. Homeowners were told before they purchased property here that this was the case. If Council allows this to happen, we will have lost a very important mechanism for obtaining open space.”

Wallace Christner disagreed. “We simply want the right to fence our own property,” he said. “We don’t want to cut down the trees. We have small children, and we want to fence our back yard so that they can play safely in it. Although part of our back yard is a conservation area, it is private property. We want to place a fence along our property line. We are willing to agree that we will not use the conservation area for active recreation. This is simply a matter of safety.”

PEPPER SPOKE IN support of allowing the fence to be built. “The SUP says that no structures can be built in the conservation area,” she said. “I don’t think that we consider fences to be structures. When I think of a structure, I think of a shed or a garage, but not a fence,” she said.

Councilwoman Claire Eberwein disagreed. “While the fence is certainly a very nice fence, and while I appreciate the desire to protect young children, I don’t believe that we can allow this precedent. Why should staff negotiate for these types of easements if City Council can just overturn them later after people purchase their homes?” she said.

Barbara Ross, the deputy director of Planning, agreed with Eberwein. “Open space, conservation and historic easements are a very important mechanism for us to protect open space and historic structures in the city,” she said. “Staff is going to be very reluctant to use this mechanism if people can simply go to Council later and have the conditions in the SUP amended because they don’t like something in it.”

The Planning Commission denied the request for those reasons. City Council, on the other hand, allowed the fence to be built. The vote was 5-1, with Speck not participating due to a conflict of interest and Eberwein voting against the fence.

THE NEW Starbucks will be opening this summer in part of the former Seaport Inn. Some neighborhood residents opposed the outdoor seating because they say it will detract from the ambiance of Old Town.

“I think that this is exactly the kind of business we want to see here,” said Councilman David Speck. “We have been working very hard to attract businesses to these corners, and this will draw people to Old Town.”

The outdoor seating was approved unanimously.

William Cromley asked for an SUP to build a single-family home on a lot that is less than 1,980 square feet on North Patrick Street. Some of the neighbors opposed the request because the side yard on which the house will be built is now green space.

“There is so little green space on North Patrick Street that I really hate to see us lose what is there,” said Councilwoman Redella S. “Del” Pepper. “We will be losing green space and trees that we aren’t going to be able to replace.”

Council upheld the Planning Commission’s recommendation and approved the SUP. Pepper was the only dissenting vote.