Zoning officials hammer out definition for 'new' construction

Westport's Zoning Board of Appeals, frustrated when some applicants take down everything in their home except the first-floor deck and walls and call it a renovation, has long advocated a "new construction" definition.

The wait is over, as the Planning & Zoning Commission recently drafted a proposed definition the ZBA can use when reviewing variance applications. The amendment, to be reviewed at a Sept. 23 public hearing of the P&Z, would define a plan as new construction if it fits any of the following criteria:

"¢ an entirely new structure.

"¢ increasing the size of a structure by more than 35 percent of its footprint or floor area within a five-year period.

"¢ removal, destruction or reconstruction of more than 35 percent of the exterior walls or structural members of a building within a five-year period, except a change in a building facade that is less than 4 inches in depth.

Don Miro of Miro Builders said of the last criterion: "How do you define that? I believe that needs to be made more clear and better defined."

In addition, he and contractor Michael Greenberg, of Greenberg & Associates, wondered how the commission arrived at its "35 percent" in two of the three criteria.

"At this time, I'm not so sure I agree with those percentages," Greenberg said Tuesday. "But I would like to understand the philosophy behind it." Greenberg said he plans to discuss the proposal with P&Z Director Larry Bradley to get a better grasp of it.

Bradley said Thursday that the commission initially considered making the percentage 50 percent.

"We started at 50. We made a compromise at 35," he said. "We were trying to keep it low to get more people to conform to the current regulations."

Bradley said without a detailed definition of new construction, the ZBA had no guidelines to rely upon to define the type of work people were doing when they pretty much removed everything from a structure except the first-floor walls and maybe a deck.

"This definition would tell applicants that would be considered new construction," Bradley said.

ZBA Chairman Jim Ezzes, unavailable for comment but quoted in Bradley's earlier press release on the proposed definition for new construction, said, "This new definition will prove extremely helpful to our board as we review variance applications where a pre-existing, non-conforming condition is used as the rationale for granting a variance."

He added, "It is often a difficult task to determine when existing conditions trigger the need for a variance. It has long been a policy of the ZBA to eliminate non-conformities to the greatest extent possible when new construction is proposed. This amendment will help us in making those types of decisions."

Full copies of the proposed regulations are available at the P&Z offices in Town Hall and on the town's website, www.westportct.org