UNITY — A controversial proposal to build cabins near Unity Pond has raised questions about the town’s Board of Appeals and what it’s 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. They would be 12 feet by 32 feet each and placed 30 feet apart, and the land is about 80,000 square feet, or 3.73 acres.

Tozier’s permit was denied recently by the Planning Board because it concluded he didn’t meet the zoning requirement for lot size. The lot falls partially within shoreland zoning, which requires at least 40,000 square feet per structure.

On Wednesday, Tozier met with the Board of Appeals for a variance, as he said six small cabins wouldn’t have a greater impact than six-unit apartment building or a large house.

Some residents who live near the area where Tozier is proposing to build the cabins expressed concern about the project’s effect on their quality of life, but they also conceded that the summer had been quieter since Tozier moved into the area, where he already rents several properties. Tozier said he invested a great deal of money in the properties, and also bought them on the condition that the current renters leave.

“The people I rent to I typically screen,” he said.

Tozier is talking with the people who attended the meeting to learn about their concerns but is not yet considering dropping the project. At the meeting, he said he didn’t want to upset his neighbors.

However, it’s not clear the Board of Appeals would be 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 a meeting of the Board of Appeals to hear the case on Wednesday, the board chairman appeared to interpret the ordinance, and the board’s ability, differently.

Mary Ann Hayes, who attended the meeting and is also a member of the economic development committee, and Andy Reed, who lives on the lake, questioned the project’s legality.

“If you have an ordinance in the town, don’t you have to follow it?” Reed said.

Hayes questioned whether the board has the ability to grant a variance. She said a variance could be granted only if the applicant proves undue hardship. While Hayes wasn’t against the idea of more rental units for the town, she said the town would have to change the ordinance’s lot size requirements or add exceptions to allow people to pursue similar ventures. Ordinances are voted on by the residents, so she said it wouldn’t legal for the board to grant a variance without proof of undue hardship.

Board Chairman Bob Van Deventer read the board’s ordinance aloud at the meeting, saying section four under “Powers and Limitations,” which 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, means the board can grant variances beyond undue hardships.

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

In a phone interview Friday, Van Deventer said the board put the decision on hold because two of the members are new and want to learn more about the project and possibly visit the area. When asked if he thought the board had the power to grant a variance in this instance, he said he didn’t know yet and would wait to see what information the board members bring to the next meeting.

Van Deventer said he looks at the appeals board as “commonsense.”

“You can’t fit every scenario into certain rules,” he said. “Rules are for guidelines. I think the Board of Appeals exists to guide.”

If the Board of Selectmen or anyone else disagrees with the decision the board makes, they can then appeal the decision in court, he said.

Tozier, who proposed the project, said that he understands the need for ordinances, but it was “discouraging to go through that.”

“It’s unfortunate that we can’t develop something like this or have the forward thinking to build something like this in the community,” he said on the phone Thursday. “I think, for the town of Unity, it’d be nice to have a change in what’s available for rentals, and it’s too bad that something like this isn’t allowed to go through. The town of Unity doesn’t have a lot of professional people that want to invest in the town.”

The Board of Appeals is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Town Office.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour