UNITY — The Board of Appeals has voted to reject a request for a zoning variance to place multiple cabins in a lot that does not meet the town ordinance’s size requirements.

Board members voted 3-2 Wednesday to deny the variance request. Members Dan McCormick and Sue Ferreira voted to approve the request, while board members Mary Kenney and Denise Whitney, as well as Chairman Bob Van Deventer, voted to deny it.

Van Deventer did not want to comment on his vote. However, at the meeting he said the appeals board could have approved the request if it had wanted to — an argument some other board members have voiced as well.

“The Board of Appeals is there, I consider it, for common sense,” he said during the meeting. “Any ordinance that’s there … the Board of Appeals can override. The rules are there for guidance.”

The town’s own attorney, though, disagrees with that assertion. Kristin Collins, of the PretiFlaherty law firm, has said the appeals board has two areas of jurisdiction. It can handle traditional appeals, which give it the power to remand a case back to the Planning Board if it finds the board violated an ordinance or made an error; or it can grant a variance, in which case the applicant has to meet the high standard of proving “undue hardship.”

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

Chad Tozier, a pharmacist and businessman, was requesting to place six Amish-built cabins on Juniper Lane near Unity Pond. His request first brought up concerns about the appeals board’s extent of power at a meeting on Jan. 4. Resident Mary Ann Hayes, who’s also on the economic development committee, said the board had to adhere to the criterion of “undue hardship” to grant a variance. Andy Reed, who lives in the area of the proposed cabins, said he thought the board should uphold the town’s ordinances.

Jean Bourg, a Planning Board member, said during the meeting on Wednesday that the board knew there was no way Tozier’s idea could fit within the ordinance, so they sent him to the appeals board.

“What we would be doing here is changing the ordinance value or changing the rules for one person,” Bourg said. “I’m not sure that’s fair to all the other people living within the confines of the ordinance.”

After the meeting, Bourg said the board “loves what Chad is trying to do,” and said there is a lodging problem in Unity. Unfortunately, she said, the town’s ordinance doesn’t facilitate ideas like Tozier’s, so the Planning Board may make an addendum to it in the future.

The appeals board postponed a decision on Jan. 4 to let its new members gather more information, then took up the case again Wednesday, with an audience of about 20 people packed into a small room in the Town Office.

At the meeting, Tozier said he had been encouraged to go to the appeals board after his permit application failed before the Planning Board. Tozier amended his original request for six cabins to four that would be filled with long-term tenants he would screen.

However, the lot size is not big enough to hold that number of structures under the town’s ordinance. If the lot were to fall under shoreland zoning requirements, as a small part of it is in the shoreland zone, Tozier would need 40,000 square feet per structure.

Tozier was asking for an exception because the effect of the small buildings would equal the effect of a larger structure, he said, and the cabins would provide an alternative housing option for the town.

“It is of concern to me about how everyone feels in that area, and I don’t really want to impact … people’s happiness with me and the area and whatnot,” Tozier said. “That is important to me.”

While Reed and Hayes brought up the issue of following town ordinances again at the meeting, some residents also said they were concerned about the effect the proposal would have on their quality of life in the area.

“We pay a lot in taxes to have the privilege of living on the lake, and we really enjoy being able to be outside,” Linda Gillette said. “Since Chad has been there and had property, the cove has been a more pleasant place. But I feel like I don’t know if Chad and Theresa are gonna be there five years, 10 years down the road.”

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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