Amber provided the necessary documentation to receive a building permit. The lot in question wasn’t grand or special, but it was Amber’s to build upon and she was ecstatic. This lot is what in zoning is called an existing non-conforming lot which already had an old mobile home on it placed there in 1965. The plan was to remove the decrepit mobile home to make way for a new modular home for her family. Westhampton’s zoning where this lot is currently requires 50’ front setback. Amber’s foundation was dug and appeared a bit close to the front boundary, she therefore excavated further back, which caused her to run into ledge and couldn’t move further back because there were no funds for blasting ledge and it appeared that she had met the setbacks based on the telephone pole layouts that are typically taken as the front edge of a rural property. How many people believe they own up to the sidewalk or paved roadway, many I’m sure and it may or may not be true. The only way to assure that you know the exact location of the front lot line is to hire a licensed surveyor who could research the deeds and survey from a state placed boundary marker that could be a half mile down the road. This certainly wasn’t in the budget nor was it required. The owner is responsible to meet the setback and if contested prove it was met. Amber’s setback was questioned and it was discovered that the foundation had been set four feet short of the required 50’ to be allowed by right. Amber in all of her best efforts had errored assuming the right of way of the road was a fifty foot strip when in fact it was a unusual 60’ strip meaning Amber lost five feet of her assumed frontage. Therefore the one foot excess she thought she had achieved turned into a four foot shortage.
The lot however was existing non-conforming and with that through a zoning process called a finding Amber could appeal to the town to allow for an increase of the existing non-conforming status. This means as long as she met the old setback of 35’ the finding would be granted, and the law says unless the structure is substantially more detrimental to the neighborhood than the existing. The cover photo shows the old mobile home still on site to the right. Unfortunately, the system set up to address these issues was perverted by misdirection of a resident of Westhampton speaking on behalf of a neighbor. This is not a bad thing, it is there way it is intended to be. However, when the perversion of the truth and law occur a board cab be swayed in the wrong direction.
First the ZBA refused to accept that the lot was buildable at all regardless of the fact that the sitting building inspector, Charles Miller, had review this and declared it was by issuing the building permit. The ZBA asked Charles Miller to withdraw the permit and require a stop to all work. He refused to do so based on the zoning giving him the right to issue the permit and the law qualifying the lot as a buildable lot. Unfortunately the building inspector was scheduled to retire and did so as planned. The ZBA then required the new inspector to withdraw the permit and stop all work. It would have been impossible for a new inspector to refuse the order after being in the position for less than a month. Amber’s project came to a halt with her modular on the road to the site and the bank financing hang in the balance.
Westhampton is a smaller town and therefore boards often meet once or twice a month unless there is a weather event or lack of a quorum. Amber being as cooperative and accommodating as possible waited for cancelled meetings to be rescheduled to present her case to the board. The board listened with open ears then decided more information was needed hence another delay. The board finally came to understand that the lot was buildable by the grace of god. Unfortunately, Amber anticipating that the board might not reach that decision pursued and purchased a unbuildable parcel of land next to her lot that when added to the lot would bring the frontage requirement within the 250’ required by the current zoning , Amber’s neighbor’s mouth piece set down a new path, now she was determined to convince the ZBA that the mobile home was abandon and therefor the lot setbacks where required to be 50’ under the current zoning therefore absolutely resolving the frontage question. Of course with that came surveying, which is where it was discover as previously mentioned 50’ by right set back was not met, four feet short!. Besides that all of the funds for the land purchase, surveying and attorney fees had to come from the construction budget yet Amber wasn’t discouraged she was on a mission to provide a home for her family. She simply said we’ll have to purchase appliances and whatever else on a charge card to get the project done.
Amber’s lot being non-conforming retained a right by law for her to pursue a finding, which could have resolved the setback issue. However, in a turn of events Amber’s neighbor’s mouthpiece shifted direction. If the lot was legal then because of a disconnection of power to the mobile home required by Charles Miller through the electrical inspector Jim Mailoux to make safe the site must be grounds for abandonment. At the time there was an open permit was in place to remove the original mobile home with another mobile home of like and kind and in the same location, a project that had been interrupted by the untimely death of Amber’s uncle, hence the availability of the lot for her. The lot was held as a home site for years and maintained all the while with the intention of future occupancy. There was never the intent of abandonment required by law to be declared abandon. The board was swayed by the delivery of incorrect information provided from the previously mentioned mouthpiece.
Amber requested to be allowed to approach a finding to resolve the setback and continue this project knowing this would still cause a delay, but would end the issues once and for all. It was not to be. Amber request was denied and she was instructed she would need to achieve a variance. A variance is not allowed by right and has clear condition that must be met to be granted, the neighbors have the right to object, there must be a financial burden and a reason why the required set back can’t be met. Amber once again dug deep within to gain the strength to preserver through this injustice. She maintained a positive attitude and moved forward.
Westhampton being a small normally friendly and accommodating place gave Amber the confidence that the general public would not deter her dream, she certainly met the financial burden and the reason Ambers foundation couldn’t go further back was ledge that would have been cost prohibitive to blast and remove, perhaps as much as the value of the lot itself. One might wonder why did Amber not shrink the house four feet and meet the 50’ setback requirement. One it shouldn’t have needed relief, but remember this is a modular. The home was selected ordered and ready for delivery based on the issuance of the building permit by the previous inspector Charles Miller. A variance is a process and takes time published meeting to gain input and subject matter and the like. In the meantime Amber’s in transit modular home had to go somewhere so a part of it seen in the cover photo is parked on the lot in question.
The day of reckoning came for Amber in a zoning board of appeals meeting held around where seventy residents of Westhampton, some official, some curious, some for and some against took time from their lives to see justice done. Ney not only justice but human kindness and consideration. Just a year previous a finding had been granted to a home on Main Road to extent the existing non-conformity ad was granted and now blend in and is if I might say an improvement in their neighborhood. After the floor had the opportunity to be heard by the sitting board a vote would be taken amongst the five of which four positive vote where need to secure Amber’ dream. During the input from the floor the town’s highway boss noted that the location of the foundation as currently position would never effect any future road plans. In fact many home where closer than 50’ because they had been constructed under the old 35’ setback requirements. This was not unique or unusual it was consistent with the neighborhood and previous structure in fact even improved the setback.
The board went into executive session closing the meeting to the floor and discussed amongst their selves before moving to a vote. First member votes to grant, second member votes to grant, third member votes to grant and hopes are rising. The last two members look at each other and as if with a wink signaled then proceeded to vote, fourth member voted to deny and with the burden of outcome awaiting the last member’s vote the hammer dropped, fifth member votes to deny. The public is shocked how could this happen in Westhampton where caring people live in harmony for the good of all. When the opposing member where asked why they voted in the negative they simple stated they didn’t need to reveal their reasons.
Amber was denied justice after much time, effort and money spent. Her partial modular home sits on the lot, the other pieces who knows their fate? Amber’s recourse now must go to the courts and no doubt at a high price and a loss of time that will put an end to her families very merry Christmas in their new home. Please help Amber fight this miscarriage of justice as well as recover the funds expended in her attempts to please the ZBA with addition property purchase, financing , penalties, and likely a damaged trailered section of modular home sitting with the hope of one day being erected along with its sister pieces.
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