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Westhampton family’s home project 4 feet short; variance denied by town

  • Westhampton property owner Amber Kellogg talks Wednesday about the halt on building her home because the foundation is 4 feet 2 inches too close to the town right of way, according to zoning bylaw. Her modular house, left, was already in route before the order in August. The foundation can be seen at right. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Westhampton property owner Amber Kellogg sorts through town documents Nov. 29, 2017 on the land she was initially issued a building permit, but was revoked due to an error made by the former building inspector. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Westhampton property owner Amber Kellogg, left, Michael Barbeau and their son Jacob Barbeau, 17, talk Nov. 29, 2017 about putting a stop to building a new home. The family started constructing the foundation for their new home, but the project halted when they discovered it is four feet and two inches too close to the town right of way, according to zoning bylaw. Their modular house, show at back left, was already in route before the order in August. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Westhampton property owners Amber Kellogg and Michael Barbeau and their children Emily Barbeau, 7, and Jacob Barbeau, 17, are shown Wednesday at their home site, in front of their modular house. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Westhampton property owner Amber Kellogg talks Nov. 29, 2017 on the land where the family started constructing the foundation for their new home, but the project halted when they discovered it is four feet and two inches too close to the town right of way, according to zoning bylaw. Her modular house, show at back, was already in route before the order came in August. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • A cease and desist order issued by the town's building inspector was delivered to the Westhampton property owned by Amber Kellogg and Michael Barbeau, shown Nov. 29, 2017, because the foundation was laid four feet and two inches too close to the town right of way, according to zoning bylaw. The modular house, show off the foundation at back, was already in route before the order came in August. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Emily Barbeau, 7, plays on the Westhampton property Nov. 29, 2017 where the family started constructing the foundation for their new home, but the project halted when they discovered it is four feet and two inches too close to the town right of way, according to zoning bylaw. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Westhampton property owners Amber Kellogg and Michael Barbeau and their children Emily Barbeau, 7, and Jacob Barbeau, 17, are shown Nov. 29, 2017 at the site where the family started constructing the foundation for their new home, but the project halted when they discovered it is four feet and two inches too close to the town right of way, according to zoning bylaw. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Jacob Barbeau, 17, looks at the foundation on his parents' Westhampton property Nov. 29, 2017 where the family started constructing the foundation for their new home, but the project halted when they discovered it is four feet and two inches too close to the town right of way, according to zoning bylaw. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



@kate_ashworth
Thursday, November 30, 2017

WESTHAMPTON — Four feet. If Amber Kellogg and Michael Barbeau built the foundation to their home just 4 feet back on their property on 109 Northwest Road, they could complete the process.

But, because of a mistake by the former building inspector, and a Zoning Board of Appeals vote against a variance, their home is in limbo.

Town bylaws require homes to be built at least 50 feet back from the property line bordering the road. Theirs is about 46 feet in and the town of Westhampton won’t let it slide.

Kellogg, 35, and Barbeau, 34, invested their life savings to build a home for them and their 17-year-old son Jacob and 7-year-old daughter Emily.

The foundation is set, but filled with rainwater. And the modular home sits on a trailer on the lot. But there’s nothing the family can do to complete the project.

“To cause this to a family is just so cold-hearted,” Kellogg said.

The halt in the family’s efforts to build a home stemmed from a mistake by the former building inspector and a neighbor’s appeal.

The family requested a variance on the frontage setback, but the Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday shot down the request.

Three members were in favor of granting a variance and two voted against it. But the rules required a supermajority of 4-1 for the variance to be granted.

Board member Richard W. Tracy estimated that more than 75 people attended the meeting — a significant turnout for the small town — with the vast majority in favor of issuing the variance to let the 4 feet slide.

Board members Wayne Parks and Shirley Morrigan, who both voted against the variance, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Kellogg said the property, which previously contained a mobile home, has been owned by her family for 30 years. While the property was not in compliance with some of the town’s bylaws, such as the requirement for 250 feet of frontage, Tracy said it is considered a pre-existing nonconforming lot.

Kellogg’s grandfather passed down the property to her last year, and since then she has planned to build a home for her family.

Former building inspector Charles Miller, who retired recently, issued Kellogg and Barbeau a building permit, getting the necessary signatures from departments such as the Board of Health and Fire Department. The building inspector waived the signature from the Zoning Board. Attempts to reach Miller on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

With the green light, Kellogg and Barbeau went forward with their plans.

But in June, abutting landowner Mary Powers appealed the building permit. Powers, a longtime resident, was interested in purchasing the property about three years ago and was told that it was not a building lot. So, when she discovered a building permit was issued, she said she was concerned.

“I’m not opposed to having a house next door, but things need to be done in accordance for the law,” Powers said.

Following Powers’ appeal, the Zoning Board found that the building inspector mistakenly waived the signature for the Zoning Board and did not request a site plan.

Powers said there have been a number of inconsistencies with the way the former building inspector enforced bylaws.

Ginny Curtis, who serves on the Zoning By-Law Review Committee, agrees and said bylaws need to be enforced. She’s currently working on the committee to revise 1995 by-laws.

“I believe in following the law and believe in following the procedures that are mandated,” Curtis said.

Kellogg said she did everything the town told her to do. She reapplied for a building permit and purchased a piece of land next to the lot to make sure they were in compliance with the frontage bylaw of 250 feet.

They purchased less than an acre of land next to the property, spending $6,000 for the land and $3,000 for a survey. They had already taken out a loan for $117,000, purchased a modular home and built the foundation. Barbeau, who works in construction, has done much of the labor himself. 

After learning that the foundation was 4 feet short of the 50-foot setback, the family requested a variance. Kellogg said she had hired an attorney and wrote two letters of complaint to the Select Board.

To justify a variance, three conditions need to be met: There’s an issue with the topography that would affect the structure, enforcement of the bylaw would result in substantial hardship and allowance of the variance would not be detrimental to the public.

Tracy said all three conditions were met. A ledge prevented the home from being sited farther back on the property. He said there’s a good justification for hardship as the family will be without a home and will face a financial burden.

Kellogg said her daughter has been seeing the school nurse more often with worries about having no home.

And when it comes to the public, he said it’s clear that most of the neighborhood is OK with the property being just 4 feet short of the setback.

Highway Superintendent David Blakesley said he spoke in favor of the variance. “Being 4 feet short would not have any impact on future development of the road,” he said.

Curtis, however, said the permit had been issued illegally and the foundation should not have been constructed without approval from the town. Powers said the need for a variance was “self-inflicted.”

With the variance shot down, the family could appeal, but Kellogg said the process could take a long time.

“I’ve worked since I was 17,” Barbeau said. “Everything I’ve ever had has gone into this property.”

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@ gazettenet.com.

Editor’s note: This story was modified at 11 a.m. on Nov. 30 to note that attempts to reach former building inspector Charles Miller on Wednesday were unsuccessful.