Background: In March 2019, the Planning Board proposed an amendment to the Lyme Zoning Ordinance to modify the current Lot Size Averaging provision. I sent the following notes to the Lyme Listserv to ask residents not to vote for this change.
Update: At Town Meeting, Article 2 (the Lot Size Averaging amendment) failed by a vote of 282 votes against, and 198 votes for it.
To the Lyme Listserv,
I am writing because a couple people asked my opinion of the Lot Size Averaging (LSA) amendment (Article #2) on Tuesday’s warrant.
Lot Size Averaging (LSA) could provide a useful tool but as amended, it dramatically decreases what is allowed in comparison with what an owner could build in a conventional subdivision. The details make for a long message, but in sum it permits much less in the way of house (about 50% less) and outbuildings (up to 80% less).
Furthermore, the “procedural simplicity” claimed for the new language comes by removing the right of an applicant to appeal to the zoning board for relief from the new restrictions.
Given these new constraints on what can be built, this proposed LSA amendment doesn’t provide value to Lyme, or to a resident who would consider using it.
That said, smaller, more dense (and less expensive) housing can help those who want to downsize and stay in town. It also helps the many people who serve the residents of Lyme in our schools, homes, restaurants, and who provide services such as hairdressers, firefighters, nurses, and electricians. They should be able to live in Lyme, too.
If you think that alternatives should be allowed in Lyme, please vote No on Article #2 on the paper ballot this Tuesday, and encourage our dedicated volunteer planners to return to the drawing board and consider other strategies for housing.
In a followup email, Mary Callahan wrote:
Can anyone give me more information on this article? I’ve read the article on the town report but I’m wondering about the background. How does this differ with what’s in place now and what is the need that the board sought to address with this amendment? Maybe someone can point me to minutes on the town site, I haven’t been able to find them.
Thanks for your curiosity. As I noted in my previous message, Lyme has a complicated ordinance regarding how people can build on their land. Since our application for subdivision triggered this amendment, let me use our property to illustrate how the new language constrains the ability to build homes.
To summarize, our 96-acre parcel at the Loch Lyme Lodge yields only four buildable lots under the both the current and new language. However, the new language would limit our building footprint by more than 50%, the lot coverage by 80%, and the gross floor area by two thirds from what could currently be allowed on the parcel.
The Lyme Ordinance promotes single-family homes on large lots. A “buildable lot” must have at least three acres remaining after subtracting conservation overlays – wetlands and buffers, agricultural soil, steep slopes. Parent parcels frequently need to be twice or three times as large (six to ten or more acres) to meet that minimum lot size.
Under Current Ordinance:
Pinnacle Project owns a 96 acre parcel in the Rural district at the Loch Lyme Lodge that could be used for residential purposes. After subtracting conservation overlays and applying the three/five acre rules, the 96 acre parcel ends up with only four “buildable lots” of 3.0, 5.6, 6.8, and 8.6 acres, respectively. These lot sizes determine the Building Footprint, Lot Coverage, and Gross Floor Area for the homes.
Building Footprint – In a conventional subdivision of our land, the current ordinance would permit home footprints that are 2% of the lot size, or 2,622, 4,855, 5,949, and 7,000 square feet for a total of 20,426 sf.
Maximum Lot Coverage limits the total square footage of the home, garage, barn, workshop, greenhouses, sheds, outbuildings, etc. In a conventional four-lot subdivision the allowance is a generous 12% of the lot size, capped at 26,000 sf. Three of our lots would allow 26,000sf, the fourth would be 15,734 sf of lot coverage, for a total of 93,734sf.
Gross Floor Area in the residential district is capped at 14,000 sf. In practice, the height limitations mean that the homes likely would have two stories, and our buildings would max out at 5,244, 9,710, 11,898, and 14,000 sf, a total of 40,852sf.
I acknowledge that these would be large homes, but if someone wanted to build them, they would be permitted automatically (subject to suitable septic, driveway, etc. plans) under the current ordinance. I also note that the setback requirements and other dimensional controls would require that the homes be spread out across the property with no protection of open space.
Using the New Lot Size Averaging language:
If an applicant instead wanted to avoid breaking up the open space on a parcel and cluster the homes, the new ordinance applies severe constraints on these homes. Using the same lot sizes for our property:
Building Footprint: limited to 2,500sf per home. Four homes would total 10,000sf, or less than 50% of what is currently allowed.
Maximum Lot Coverage: limited to 4,500sf. Four homes would total 18,000sf, or only 20% of what would be allowed.
Gross Floor Area: limited to 3,000sf. Four homes would total 12,000sf, or less than a a third of what would be allowed currently.
Two More Points:
The current ordinance also limits building sizes for lot size averaging, but includes an option to go to the Zoning Board to request for relief to those constraints. The new language explicitly removes this option.
Finally, the building limits seem arbitrary. During both the drafting hearings and the public hearings, the board set the footprint and gross floor area sizes by their feelings that they were “reasonably sized” and “generous” homes according to their “perception of what’s reasonable.”
Summary: The proposed language is a disincentive for the use of Lot Size Averaging. In the only recent case, this new language would limit the footprint by more than 50%, the lot coverage by 80%, and the gross floor area by two thirds over what could currently be allowed.
This is not a useful change, and only continues the Ordinance’s promotion of single family homes on large lots.
If you agree, please vote No on Article #2 and encourage our dedicated volunteer planners to consider other strategies for housing.
Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public body, such as the Lyme Planning Board, Budget Committee, or Trustees of the Trust Funds where I volunteer. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at email@example.com.