EASTHAM — The owners of a property overlooking Boat Meadow marsh have agreed to compromise with their neighbors and downsize a plan to replace an existing cottage with a large house and a garage that includes an apartment above.
While the project’s original components essentially remain, several changes were made to reduce their size and soften the appearance of the building’s mass.
On April 6, the zoning board of appeals initially voted to uphold the planning board’s previous site plan approval for the project but also to require that the first and second stories of the house be reduced by 10 percent.
Attorney Ben Zehnder, representing the property’s new owners, John Sheehan and Sara Zobel, complained that would “kill” the project. The zoning board then rescinded its vote and gave the two sides a month to see if they could settle their differences. The agreement reduces the main floors of the house by 9.5 percent.
Neighbor Christopher Szwedo, who had opposed the project, said the house will still be large but not quite as imposing as it would have been. “The things that made it over the top were taken out,” Szwedo said.
The compromise most likely kept the dispute out of court.
“I was ready to take it to the next level,” Szwedo said after the agreement was reached. “I think Ben saw the way out of it for his clients was to negotiate.”
Despite considerable pushback from abutters, Sheehan and Zobel had secured site plan approval from the planning board in December for a project that included about 5,000 square feet of living space at 715 Bridge Road.
Szwedo and his partner, Andrea Hanson, who live at 15 Bayview Road directly behind the proposed house, filed an appeal of the site-plan approval. At the April 6 ZBA hearing, they argued the planning board had made no attempt to shape the project so that it would fit into the neighborhood, where houses range from 2,000 to 3,000 square feet.
The planning board had shown a “predisposition” to allow large houses, said Hanson and Szwedo, who played a clip from the planning board’s site plan discussion of the project in late fall to make their point. In it, Chair Daniel Coppelman said people today want taller ceilings and bigger windows. “You’re not going to keep 1920s cottages in a town forever,” he said.
After a negotiating session at Zehnder’s office, new plans were drawn up incorporating several adjustments to reduce the scale of the project. It was then sent to the neighbors for review.
The neighbors found them acceptable, Zehnder told the ZBA on May 4.
The new design reduced the two main floors by 315 square feet, or 9.5 percent, and the finished basement and studio above the garage by 304 square feet. Other changes include larger overhangs on the water side of the house to reduce its visual scale; lowering the roof height in the center by 1½ feet to break up the building volume; reducing size of the entry porch; and eliminating some windows and making others smaller.
The zoning board voted to approve the changes and attach them to the project’s site plan approval.
At that same meeting, Szwedo and Hanson said they wanted to make their dissatisfaction with the planning board’s review process part of the record. “We feel this compromise could have happened last year, and that a great deal of time was wasted because abutters and neighbors weren’t listened to at the outset,” Hanson said. “The planning board made us feel like we were invisible and not heard.”
“It’s time to move forward,” said ZBA chair Joanne Verlinden.
Regarding the planning board’s process, Coppelman told the Independent that his board had reviewed the application thoroughly. It concluded, he said, “that, according to the existing Eastham bylaws, it met zoning.”
Town meeting voters on May 6 approved several zoning bylaw changes including one setting site coverage limits and calculating coverage based on the amount of buildable upland on the lot.
Now, even with the planned reductions, the size of this house would exceed the maximum standard for lot coverage, Town Planner Paul Lagg said. But because Sheehan and Zobel’s plans for 715 Bridge Road had already been approved, the new rules do not apply to their case.
Coppelman said the bylaw changes will help his board “eliminate subjective review and get to objective review.”