Plans for cabins near Unity Pond raise zoning questions

By Madeline St. Amour, centralmaine.com staff writer | Jan 09, 2017

Unity — A controversial proposal to build cabins near Unity Pond has raised questions about the town’s Board of Appeals and what it is allowed to do.

Chad Tozier, a pharmacist and businessman who also rents out multiple houses and units in the area, is requesting a building permit to place six cabins on land on Juniper Lane, a small part of which is within the shoreland zoning district.

Tozier would buy the Amish-built cabins from Backyard Buildings near Thorndike, he said. Tozier’s permit was recently denied by the Planning Board because the board concluded the plans did not meet the zoning requirement for lot size. The shoreland zoning district requires at least 40,000 square feet per structure.

On Jan. 4, Tozier met with the Board of Appeals for a variance.

Some residents who live near the area where Tozier proposes to build the cabins expressed concern about the project’s effect on their quality of life.

However, it is not clear the Board of Appeals is in a position to grant Tozier a variance.

According to the town’s attorney, Kristin Collins of PretiFlaherty, the appeals board has two areas of jurisdiction that limit its power.

The board can handle traditional appeals, which would remand a case back to the Planning Board, should the appeals board conclude that it had violated an ordinance or made an error in its decision; or it can grant variances, which must meet the requirement of “undue hardship.”

“The Board of Appeals has to look very strictly at the variance standards,” Collins said. “The applicant has a really high bar to meet.”

According to the board’s ordinance, “undue hardship” means the land cannot give a “reasonable return” unless a variance is granted, the need is unique to the circumstances of the property and not the conditions of the area, granting a variance won’t change the “essential character” of the area, and the hardship is not the result of the applicant’s or a prior owner’s actions.

However, during the meeting of the Board of Appeals, Chairman Bob Van Deventer read the board’s ordinance aloud, and said Section Four under “Powers and Limitations,” says the board can “hear and determine” appeals by people affected by decisions made by the Planning Board, the code enforcement officer or selectmen, among others, which he said means the board can grant variances beyond undue hardships.

The board decided to postpone the decision and Van Deventer ended the meeting saying, “In my opinion, we can grant this variance.”

Editor's note: This story was originally published online at centralmaine.com. It is republished with permission.

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