Mont Vernon looking at zoning changes

MONT VERNON – The Planning Board is proposing a series of changes to the town zoning ordinances in response to continuing development pressure, including one that would legalize “in-law apartments,” which officials admit are often snuck onto homes already.

“This is something that (former building inspector) Bart Randall and (current inspector) Eddie Gilbert wanted,” said Victoria Arico, chairman of the Planning Board.

“In-law apartments” is a term for small additions to a house designed to provide semi-independent living, usually for an elderly relative who can no longer live alone.

They differ from a guest room in that they have such things as stoves and refrigerators, which require a beefed-up electrical supply, and separate exits.

They aren’t allowed in Mont Vernon, but Gilbert and Arico said at least a few homes have added them on the sly, usually to help aging parents.

Creating a legal route to construct in-law apartments has safety advantages, Gilbert said. It allows him to oversee the work to make sure it is done safely, and it helps the fire department know there are separate inhabited areas in a home so they make sure everybody is safe in case of a fire.

Some towns, such as Milford, have cut back on in-law apartments because of what happens after the homeowners move away. New owners may not have a need for the apartment and have tended to turn them into rental units or duplexes.

Mont Vernon’s proposal seeks to prevent that by, among things, requiring that in-law apartments use the same power meter as the home, and have its “access . . . through a living area or open foyer within the larger dwelling unit, (so the resident) is inevitably a member of the household.”

Other proposals, all of which must be approved at Town Meeting, are:

– An expansion of the “Wireless Communications Service Facilities Regulations” that would make it harder to erect cell-phone towers.

Among the changes are the requirement that towers “are provided compatibly with the visual and environmental features . . . in particular, but not limited to, those associated with the views from Route 13 and the town-owned Lamson Farm.”

The view toward Milford on Route 13, at the southern edge of the village, is often considered one of the defining characteristics of Mont Vernon.

Lamson Farm is an 18th century farm bought by Mont Vernon more than a decade ago that, among other things, hosts an annual town-wide celebration.

The only cell-tower proposal in Mont Vernon in the past two years has concerned a proposed tower on private land not far from Lamson Farm. That proposal was eventually withdrawn.

– A couple of technical changes concerning wetlands and soil types are being forwarded that would effectively reduce the number of houses that could be built on land in certain parts of town.

– The Planning Board is also seeking a large expansion of the nonresidential site plan review, the process by which the town determines whether to allow commercial operations in residential areas. Virtually all of Mont Vernon is zoned a residential area.

The proposed process would automatically allow farm stands for locally grown produce and timber cutting. Home businesses would have to get a special exemption from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

If supported at Town Meeting, these changes would expand the current one-sentence ordinance, which was hastily installed to give Mont Vernon a voice over a proposed ATV park that would have spilled over from Lyndeborough. That park has since been withdrawn.

– Allowing a “computer-generated format” for various ordinances and regulations related to development, putting them all in one location.