WATERTOWN — A controversial application by Erik Markiewicz (EPM Development LLC) for the demolition of an existing house and the construction of a new three-family dwelling in its place at 542 Davis St. in Oakville, has been winding its way through the town’s land use boards since late last summer.
During this time, Attorney Franklin Pilicy, representing the applicant, filed for a zone map change on the parcel, from R-30 to R-12.5, along with changes to five other parcels, located on Davis Street and Everitt Lane.
During a Public Hearing last summer, Mr. Pilicy argued the parcels were always considered R-12.5 and some are still listed that way on the assessor’s cards in direct contrast to the zoning map.
That argument was disputed by the owners of property on Everitt Lane, who also claimed they were unaware of the proposal to change their properties from R-30 to R-12.5. The change matters because three-family homes are not allowed in an R-30 zone.
The zone map change was granted, and the application for the demolition and construction of the new three-family home was filed with the Conservation Commission/Inland Wetlands Agency as a next step.
The commission opened a Public Hearing on the issue back in October, which it closed last month, but a new controversy erupted when staff included a draft approval on the application with other materials on the application. An unsigned letter, apparently from a commissioner, was read into the record last month as part of public comment on the hearing.
That letter questioned how a letter of approval could be sent to commissioners before they had even closed the public hearing and had not yet reviewed material that was included as part of the draft approval. The letter also questioned who had authorized staff to write the letter, as it certainly had not been anyone on the commission.
At its regular meeting on Thursday, January 14, the commission considered the application and decided to ask staff to prepare a draft approval for review at their next meeting.
Land Use Administrator Mark Massoud later read a prepared written response to that December letter as part of the staff report. In it, he said the decision to draft an approval was his as part of a new effort to streamline the process by which applications move forward through land use boards.
The new efficiency effort had been encouraged by new Town Manager Mark Raimo. Mr. Raimo also wrote a letter that was read into the record stating a SWOT analysis showed this was one possible way to improve the department’s efficiency.
SWOT is a business management tool that seeks to identify “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats” that should be considered while making decisions or developing new strategies or practices.
Mr. Massoud also explained that Assistant Planning and Zoning Enforcement Officer Moosa Rafey was originally supposed to draft the approval, but he sought to recuse himself. Mr. Raimo, upon hearing that, instructed Mr. Massoud to tell Mr. Rafey that employees cannot recuse themselves.
Upon hearing this, Commissioner Tom Murphy suggested the commission table discussion on the matter until next month, when they had an opportunity to read the letter as opposed to listening to it. He also stated he had never heard of any policy that would not allow a staff member to recuse himself on an issue and that such a practice made no sense to him.
Commissioners are constantly reminded that they need to voluntarily recuse themselves from deliberations if certain criteria are met.
Mr. Massoud said Town Attorney Paul Jessell had also written a letter on the matter, but he did not read that letter into the record, nor did Mr. Jessell, who was present at the meeting, comment.
On another controversial issue, the commission learned there has still been no progress on two violations that have been on the agenda for more than a year, the first at 30 Jericho Rd. and the second involving property owned by the Watertown Fire District.
In both instances, a neighbor encroached on an adjacent property, creating a violation on that other property, and the town was having difficulty getting the issue resolved.
Parks and Recreation Director Lisa Carew had written a letter to the commission about 30 Jericho Rd., read into the record, that asked for assistance in resolving an issue where a neighbor had dumped fill onto town-owned land.
Mr. Jessell said he is continuing to work on the problem, but that the commission had initially issued the neighbor a five-year permit to remove the fill. The case should have been handled by a notice of violation and an order to remove the fill in a more timely fashion.
The second issue is reportedly now a court case. Initially the neighbor claimed the land was his.
Following new surveys, the landowner has reportedly agreed the property belongs to the Watertown Fire District. Involved parties are now trying to work out some sort of plan to remediate the violation.
In other action, the commission approved two applications, one for construction of a new single-family home at Lot 5 Caruso Drive and the other for construction of a new single-family home at 1346 Northfield Rd.
The commission also accepted for review an application for construction of a new single-family home on Lot 6 Caruso Drive.