Home Occupations To Be Clarified by Planning Board

The Londonderry Planning Board has taken a preliminary look at some changes and streamlining to the Zoning Ordinance.

In the Jan. 11 board meeting, John Vogl, GIS Manager and Comprehensive Planner, and Town Planner Colleen Mailloux updated the board on some of the proposed changes including definitions, dimensional requirements for wireless towers and what exactly is a “home occupation.”

Currently, Mailloux said, any home occupation must go before the Zoning Board of Adjustment for a special exception. But with more people working from home, she asked, “Should it be more flexible?”

Mailloux and Vogl researched what surrounding communities are doing. In Amherst, under an ordinance she wrote when she was their planner, all the approvals or rejections of home occupations are done at the staff and administrative level, with no applicants coming before the board. But there are different “tiers,” Mailloux said, and each owner is subject to a five-year renewal process.

Bedford has a hybrid system, with home occupations going before staff or the board, depending on the situation.

Mailloux noted that the town already has a list of prohibited home businesses, including landscaping and excavation.

One advantage to the board process, whether Planning Board or ZBA, is that it involves a public hearing and abutters are notified, That doesn’t happen at the staff level, he said.

A lot of it is common sense, member Scott Benson observed, and could be handled by staff. If a home business has people parking at the residence and staying a long time, that would be a problem, he said. “And I personally could not live across the street from a business with three excavators and a dump truck,” he said.

Vice-chair Mary Wing Soares, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Chairman Art Rugg, observed that she liked the Bedford system. If a sole proprietor is working from home and doesn’t entertain customers, that is handled administratively, while if the person has employees and customers, that’s Planning Board, she said.

“I like the two-tier system,” member Leitha Reilly contributed. “It helps clarify the issues.”

Reilly added that the definition of a home occupation is often “squishy.” “Should every consultant, every journalist have to register their business?” she asked.

Member Giovanni Verani agreed. “In this day and time, everyone is working everywhere,” he said.

Verani said he was in favor of staff reviewing some of the cases. “But there should be an appeals process,” he said. He also thought the requirement to reapply every five years wasn’t fair. “You establish your business, and then you’re told, ‘You can’t do it here’?”

Member Al Sypek said he liked the hybrid. “You could deal with some occupations on a staff level,” he said, adding that he still felt abutters needed to be notified. “This is Londonderry, and the abutters want to know,” he said.

Member Rick Brideau liked Bedford’s two tiers, while member Chris Davies preferred the Amherst model.

Reilly also had questions about a home-based adult day care. If she’s caring for an aging relative, does she have to register as a home business? she asked, to which Vogl said, probably not. “The threshold,” he said, “is whether people are being picked up and dropped off.”

In the matter of definitions, Vogl said the document is being combed through to remove overlapping definitions in the zoning ordinance, site plan review requirements and subdivision requirements.

“We want to be contemporary, accurate and consistent,” he said.

The ordinance for wireless communications was adopted in 1996, “and there have been a lot of changes since then,” Vogl said. The regulations have been overhauled to be aligned with the state RSAs. The towers are still permitted in the Industrial and Commercial zones, and still probited in Agricultural/Residential, he said.

The proposed changes would allow a maximum height of 200 feet instead of the current 190 feet. “That is the industry standard, and consistent with other communities,” Vogl said.

The town has a provision that a communications company must provide a bond or escrow to be used in the event they discontinue use of the tower and the town has to take it down. This has been removed from the state law, Vogl said. “We are keeping it in for now, and running it by Attorney Michael Ramsdell,” he told the board.

Vogl and Mailloux will continue to work on the changes and hope to be done in April.

“There are three areas we’re not touching,” Mailloux said: “Signage, adult entertainment and backyard chickens.”

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