A proposed Waltham zoning amendment has raised concerns among local businessmen and real estate agents who say it would hinder homeowners’ ability to expand and improve their houses.
“These zoning changes are very detrimental to a lot of different neighborhoods in the city,” Realty Executive Owner/Broker Kevin Song told Waltham Patch. “This is going to prevent a lot of people from wanting to stay [in Waltham].”
Overall, the proposal would tighten regulations for finishing basements, limit the height of residences and prevent future developments from exploiting existing loopholes, according to City Councillor Robert Logan, who proposed the amendment. It would also tighten zoning rules for parking.
The City Council and Board of Planning & Survey will hold a public hearing on Monday, March 25, at 8 p.m. at City Hall to review the amendment. From there, it will be sent to a subcommittee for further review.
Logan told Waltham Patch the proposal is meant to better manage the growth and density of the city and prevent future developments from exploiting existing loopholes.
“It’s basically a quality of life and good planning thing,” Logan said.
One part of the amendment would essentially prohibit owners of Cape and ranch homes from adding another story to their house, according to a letter from Bibbo Brothers & Associates, a land-surveying firm with zoning experience. Ralph and Robert Bibbo, co-owners of the firm wrote the letter, according to Ralph Bibbo.
The proposal would reclassify basements in homes with a walkout basement or garage as being one story in the total number of levels in a home, according to the letter. Passage of the rule would prohibit single-family homes, which are currently limited to 2.5 stories, from adding another level, according to Robert LeBlanc, a Waltham-based developer, who owns RM LeBlanc Inc.
The proposed rule would apply to homes on sloped lots, according to the letter.
Logan, however, said the letter's interpretation was too broad. He said if less than half of the living space of a basement was above ground, the proposed change would not apply.
Acknowledging concerns, Logan said he is open to modifying the proposal, which he said is primarily aimed at regulating commercial property.
“This is a starting point,” Logan said.
Also, the proposal would limit at least some homeowners from finishing their attics by placing a six-foot height restriction on half-stories, according to the letter and text of the ordinance. That, however, would conflict with the 7 feet, 2 inches minimum height for a half story required by the state building code, according to the letter. Logan said the intent is to stop residences from towering over others, but Song expressed a concern with the idea.
“Under these proposed changes, you would never be able to expand your house,” Song said.
The proposal would also require anybody wanting to place a driveway for fewer than five cars at an intersection to go through the special permit process, according to the letter. Logan said the change is meant is to keep driveways away from intersections and improve traffic safety in neighborhoods. He also said he is open to to eliminating the special permit provision.
Overall, Logan said the proposal is not aimed at any particular development.
“None of it is aimed at anything in particular,” he said.
The change could negatively impact the housing market in Waltham, according to Song.
“You’re going to cut out a section of buyers [from the market],” Song said.
Song said he believes the change would not impact home values immediately, but could in the future.
The changes, however, could hinder developers from proposing projects in Waltham, according to LeBlanc. He said the proposal was “not well thought-out,” and would be too restrictive.
LeBlanc also said he disagreed with having the proposal go to the City Council without a prior subcommittee review. He said the city typically has subcommittees review zoning proposals before sending them to the full council.
“Why not get the input first?” LeBlanc said.
Logan, however, said bringing the proposal to the full Council first is better because it gives the public a chance to voice concerns even before it begins the subcommittee review process.