The Oak Bluffs planning board kicked off the first of several meetings to gather public input regarding potential zoning reforms on Monday evening.
Topics discussed during the meeting included minimum lot sizes and permitted uses under different districts, mixed-use zoning, providing waivers for affordable housing, and bylaws surrounding short-term rentals and fractional ownership.
“We completed a master plan a few years ago, and we are now trying to incorporate what we heard and what we learned in the master plan into this zoning reform discussion,” planning board chair Ewell Hopkins said.
The topics were based on needed improvements to the town’s zoning bylaws that were identified by a working group made up of community members over the summer.
According to Hopkins, Oak Bluffs zoning bylaws were antiquated, and did not reflect the community’s current priorities.
“It has not had a serious review in decades,” Hopkins told The Times. However, he underscored he would not be pushing forward any zoning changes to the Oak Bluffs annual Town Meeting unless it had resounding public support, which is why input from the public was necessary.
“It’s foolish for any planning board to think they can force something on the people,” he said. “If they don’t understand something, they’re not going to vote on it.”
During the meeting, Hopkins said that potential zoning changes would need to go through a public hearing process, and receive a supermajority approval at Oak Bluffs’ annual Town Meeting.
The planning board chair said the determination on whether enough public input was received, or if more feedback is needed, will be made at the end of the month.
“The planning board did not make a determination that it will take these 14 topics forward to town meeting,” he said, emphasizing that this was the time to see what the public thought.
Before the zoning reform topics could be discussed, some in attendance raised concerns about the lack of advertisement regarding the meetings by the town.
“The only place people could see this was happening this week was if they visited the planning board website,” Oak Bluffs resident Pat Ingalls, who also submitted a letter to the editor with this concern, said. “I think most people in town do not check out the planning board website on a regular basis.”
Advertisements regarding possible zoning reform changes will occur when the warrant article language is proposed, according to Hopkins. He also pointed out that turnout was low until there was proposed language to look at, such as when streetscape designs were being considered for the town.
Various concerns were raised regarding the topics, such as grandfathering existing properties, connections to sewer lines, and a need for clearer wording regarding zoning topics, among others.
In regard to minimum lot sizes, Oak Bluffs zoning board of appeals chair Lou Rogers said there have been numerous cases where residents could not make changes to their property because of rezoning from years ago. Oak Bluffs affordable housing committee chair Mark Leonard said current zoning bylaws prevent some lots from being used for affordable housing because of minimum frontage sizes.
Each of these meetings will take place at the town hall, with a remote option, and will cover different topics. Feedback regarding any of the zoning reform topics can also be sent to the Oak Bluffs planning board by email.
More information about zoning reform topics can be found at bit.ly/3LLfaqF.