Bylaw limiting unrelated tenants in Amherst focus of zoning board appeal
AMHERST — A municipal bylaw that limits single-family homes to housing four unrelated roommates, and fines property owners for any violations related to the bylaw, is at the center of an appeal to be taken up by the Zoning Board of Appeals tonight.
Grandonico Properties LLC has filed an appeal of an order from Building Commissioner Robert Morra, issued Oct. 19, that is leading to fines being levied for having more than four unrelated occupants in five units at Gilreath Manor, an apartment complex on Hobart Lane.
Section 12.15 of the town’s zoning bylaw defines family as an individual person living in a unit, a group of persons related by marriage, blood or adoption, or “a group of unrelated individuals, not to exceed four, residing cooperatively in one dwelling unit.”
The violations were discovered following a Sept. 13 fire in which basement areas were determined to be living quarters for some tenants.
Morra located beds in the basements of these units, but noted in his letter to Grandonico “understanding that a bed does not necessarily confirm the presence of a permanent occupant, I was cautious in noting that items such as a dresser, clothing racks, makeup table, hair dryer, pictures, etc., which were all in clear view from the doorway, accompanied each bed to substantiate the violation.”
Morra said $100 fines for each violation are being assessed each day until they are corrected. The fines began Monday.
Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said the unit with the fire had a basement bedroom without the required egress, and inspectors suspected other neighboring apartments might have similar living spaces. With cooperation from Grandonico, both fire and building inspectors examined multiple units.
“We can’t go inside and inspect unless we’re invited in,” Nelson said. “It’s not too hard to imagine that if it’s being done in one, it’s being done throughout.”
Nelson said he is pleased that Grandonico allowed the inspection following the fire, the cause of which was not identified. It is suspected it may have originated from a malfunctioning lamp, he said. “What we want to do is make it safe for all tenants and if there are issues with the number of folks living there, we can work it out down the road,” Nelson said.
In addition, some smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the units were out of date, Nelson said, but added that there was no danger to the tenants.
“It’s not that they were unsafe conditions; Grandonico maintains good properties,” Nelson said. “But we found some things that need to be fixed, and once fixes are in place they’ll be safer than they were.”
Meanwhile the Zoning Board is also considering an appeal from the Sunset-Pleasant Association, a group of residents who live on Lincoln and Sunset avenues and Fearing Street, which is questioning whether the Historical Commission followed protocols in not issuing a demolition delay for a barn at 290 Lincoln Ave. that had ties to Robert Frost. The commission in September ruled that the barn that didn’t have historical significance, and the structure was demolished in November after Morra issued a demolition permit to property owner You-Pan Tzeng of Longmeadow.