Planning Board: a garage “triangle”

A weekly meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, July 17, started at 7:30 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Reviews of five property improvement applications were scheduled. The first of them proved controversial. Owners of a High Street Hill house opposite Philbrick Square want to reorient the entrance to their garage and expand the garage somewhat so that two cars will fit.

If that were all, the case might have taken only a few minutes, even though it involves a property in a local historic district. The complication is that the garage is currently reached by a driveway from Upland Road, but the applicants now propose to use a little over fifteen feet of exposure in back, to narrow Walnut Place, for a garage entrance. Owners of other properties on Walnut Place were not happy, to say the least, and they turned out in opposition. The case involves some of Brookline’s political “royalty” on both sides: a current member of the Board of Selectmen, a former chair of the Board of Selectmen, a former chair of the School Committee and a former chair of the Preservation Commission.

One side of the current garage is adjacent to Walnut Place, a few inches behind a fence. Walnut Place makes a sharp bend there. The inside of the bend is a curve, but the outside is flared out to the adjacent lot lines–one parallel to the side of the garage and perhaps a foot from it, the other perpendicular and the two meeting at a point. Under ordinary circumstances, the adjacent side of the garage would not be used for an entrance. According to Brookline zoning, a garage entrance has to be at least 20 feet from a “street.” [Table 5.01, note 1]

However, Walnut Place is a private way. Applicants claimed the usual rules don’t apply. Maybe, or maybe not, since Brookline zoning defines “street” as “a public or private way.” [Section 2.21] On advice from Town Counsel, Polly Selkoe, assistant director for regulatory planning at the Planning Department, said the Planning Board should probably leave the access issue to negotiations among the owners along Walnut Place or, if necessary, to a court of law.

The other owners said the “triangle” at the flared-out corner has been a critical feature of Walnut Place, providing a place for delivery trucks to turn around, a place to deposit excess snow in the winter and an occasional play area for children. They showed photos of all these situations. Trying to use it for a garage entrance, they said, would create a “blind driveway” and would be unreasonably hazardous, since there was already satisfactory access to the garage from Upland Road.

The lawyer representing the applicants tried to ridicule opponents, saying they were behaving like a private club where “we don’t want any more members.” Arguments back and forth did not seem to have much effect on members of the Planning Board. They took Ms. Selkoe’s advice and didn’t try to judge the issue of access to Walnut Place. Other issues, they felt, were minor. They unanimously recommended the Zoning Board of Appeals allow the application when it is heard August 14.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 18, 2014

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