Planners are concerned that once-commercial properties are now useless because of a two-year time limit.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Planning Board will work on a solution to a vexing issue that's left some properties in limbo around the city.
The board next month will begin discussions on changing an ordinance that limits buildings that were grandfathered under zoning to a vacancy of no more than two years before they revert to the current zoning, which is often residential.
"There are several properties in this city that have defaulted on that status and are nonconforming but no longer in continuous use. Therefore they are kind of in a state of limbo," said Chairman Michael Leary on Monday night. "I want to generate a discussion at the next meeting to see if there are options that we can recommend to the City Council to amend ordinances so we can get those properties out of limbo and help the owners of those properties."
The issues came up earlier this year when the board sought an opinion from the city solicitor as to the fate of the West End Market. The building had been under renovation but owner Barry Garton was running into a two-year deadline that would revert the commercial building to residential use. The solicitor found the renovation could be determined a "substantial" enough use to allow the board to extend his special permit.
Planning Board member Wayne Wilkinson said the most blatant example of the problem is the former NAPA auto parts store on State Road.
"Technically, the building is rendered useless," said Wilkinson. "The only use that's allowed there is residential; for someone to spend the amount of money to develop that proerpty for residential ... I don't even know if you could because of the size of the lot.
"Eventually, it will be taken by the city for back taxes and there will be nothing left at that time but to demolish it."
One option the board will look at is removing the section that refers to a nonconforming structure being "abandoned or discontinued."
The ordinance states: (Section 12, Part 2) Abandonment of a nonconforming use: A nonconforming use which has been abandoned or discontinued for a period of more than two (2) years or has been replaced by a conforming use shall lose the protection set forth above in Section 12.1. (Ord. of 8-14-1990, § 1)
Building Inspector William Meranti said an ordinance change could run into state law.
"We're an old city ... we have some of these properties that seem like they're in neighborhoods but they're commercial, storefront-type properties that have absolutely no use," said Building Inspector William Meranti, who added there is no process for reviving the nonconforming use.
Meranti said changes may run into the state's 40A zoning but "there could be avenues we can take."
The meeting was a continuation of last week's regular Planning Board meeting, which was cut short when Planner Kyle Hanlon fell ill and was taken to the hospital. Hanlon was in attendance last night and said he was feeling much better.
In other business, the board approved:
• The move of pet supplies store Bark 'N Cat from Eagle Street to 28 Holden St. Owner Christa Abel said the business is outgrowing the space it currently occupies with Persnickety toys; she expects to open in late September.
• Signage for Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts presented by Mick Callahan of Callahan Signs. The signage for the new location for the campus police in what was the Brewer Perkins building at 277 Ashland St. is in line with a re-identification plan for the college. There will also be signage to aid motorists and others in locating departments during the ongoing construction on campus.
• Snoford LLC for property at 76 Union St. was postponed to September at the request of the applicant.
• The reaffirmation the community development plan, which has changed little over the decades. The plan is reaffirmed annually; Leary anticipated that the document will change to align with the master plan currently being formulated.
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