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Agendas are nice, but boy, you really have to read the backup documents to know what’s going on. Take just one item from the Land Use Public Hearing agenda for February 11 (thank you to the person who alerted me to this agenda):

APPROVAL for walls of more than 4 feet in the setback at 78 LOVETT ROAD, Ward 8, Newton Centre, on land known as SBL 82, 15, 97, containing approximately 16,004 square feet of land in a district zoned SINGLE RESIDENCE 2. Ref: Sec 30-24, 30-23, 30-5(b)(4) of the City of Newton Rev Zoning Ord, 2012.
You might think they want to build walls. Only by reading the Planning & Development department memo will you fully appreciate the multitude of sins behind this one paragraph, but here’s the Cliff Notes version:
1) The walls have already been built. (The property was a teardown, with construction happening in 2013. Part of a hill was excavated to create a very large patio.)
2) The walls were not shown on the plans provided for the building permit.
3) The walls are within 3 feet of the north side lot line, and 18 inches of the south side lot line, where 15 feet is the minimum setback.
78LovettWallFromStreet4) Information needed by the City Engineer to evaluated drainage and infiltration has not been provided.
5) Fencing between driveway and patio shown on the site plan has not been constructed.
6) Despite all of the above, a temporary Certificate of Occupancy has been issued.
You really have to wonder who’s minding the store. How does this happen? From Attachment A, the Inspectional Services memo of December 18, 2013:
Because of the significant slope in the rear of the property, the applicant built a system of walls. Each wall is individually less than four feet in height – they are 3’11”, 3’10” and 3’10” from front to rear wall. Section 30‐5(b)(4) requires a special permit for a retaining wall within the setback in excess of 4 feet. The definitions section of the Ordinance states that a “retaining wall” is a “wall or terraced combination of walls”. In total, the terraced combination of walls reaches a maximum height of 9’7” within the side setback.
So we are supposed to excuse the developer not understanding, or reward them for willfully ignoring, that it is the total height of a terraced combination of walls that counts? If he really thought what he was doing was okay, why wasn’t it in the building permit plan?
The cynic in me suspects that developers do this kind of thing because they expect there’s a good chance of getting away with it. Perhaps someone who’s spent more time at Land Use meetings than I have can offer insight as to how often this happens. It reminds me of a few years ago when developers would build a new driveway behind a street tree, then petition to have the tree removed because it was in the way.
The only way to get people to follow the rules is to make it very expensive not to. Here’s an idea: make the developer tear down that wall, restore the area within the setback to its previous grade, build a retaining wall that they could build by right (after Engineering approves the drainage and infiltration), and impose whatever fine is justified for filing a misleading building permit plan. Does anyone in ISD or Land Use have the backbone to do this?

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