ZBA Denies Variance after Substantial Property Work

August 15, 2014
Staff Photo by S. Aaron Shamshoyan  Raymond Matthes was denied a variance by the Zoning Board to operate a commercial landscaping business on this property at 15 Brookdale Road.

Staff Photo by S. Aaron Shamshoyan Raymond Matthes was denied a variance by the Zoning Board to operate a commercial landscaping business on this property at 15 Brookdale Road.

by S. Aaron Shamshoyan

A request to operate a commercial landscaping business on a residential property was denied by the Salem Zoning Board of Adjustment after the applicant has been working on the property since early this year.

Raymond Matthes of Matthes Landscaping purchased a residential property at 15 Brookdale Road, hoping to construct a storage building and operate his landscaping business from the location.

Matthes said improvements have been being made to the property since it was purchased, including major landscaping improvements and construction to the interior of the existing house.

“We stripped the lot and we fixed it,” Matthes told the board.  “I cleaned the place up; it was falling down.”

Matthes said he had the opportunity to receive fill from area road construction projects, and used the material on the lot.

But neighbors said the work has been nothing but a nuisance, saying multiple trucks have visited the property several times a day, and that equipment was being stored on the grounds.

Edward Frazier of Brookdale Road said about 30 loads of material have been brought to the site daily.

“It’s been nothing but trucks, trucks, trucks,” Frazier said.  “The dust is horrendous in the house.”

Frazier said trucks visit the property as early as 6:30 a.m. and continue past 8:30 p.m.

Area resident James Stone said his property is separated from the Matthes location by the 20-foot former trolley way.

“Until we called and complained, there were trucks running in and out of there every day,” Stone said.

“What’s the benefit to the community and the neighborhood to approve the variance?” he asked.  “He bought the property knowing it was residential.”

Stone noted Matthes had received violations including one from the fire department for burning construction debris.

Attorney Bernard Campbell, representing Matthes, said the previous owner parked commercial vehicles on the site, and that the lot had been improved.

“The site recently had the front redone and was hydro seeded,” he said, adding the back of the property had been cleared of trees.

Campbell said the existing house on the property will continue its use as a residential dwelling.

He said the abutter to the rear, the Temple of Witchcraft, sent an email saying they did not object to the variance.

Town Planning Director Ross Moldoff said the previous owner did not have a variance to operate a business from the property.  Moldoff said he issued Matthes violations for storing equipment on the site and laying material too close to wetlands.

“Technically the site is still in violation,” Moldoff said, adding road sanders were on the property.

Moldoff mentioned two other landscaping businesses in town, which were granted variances, saying they were successful and grew from a small operation.  He said the business in question could have a substantial impact on the neighborhood.

“You could also see it as a relatively high-intensity use,” he said about the business.

Campbell said abutting property was zoned commercial, meaning the zoning change would make little impact.  He said 19-21 Brookdale operated a sandblasting company on the grounds and was zoned commercial.  Campbell also mentioned a close proximity to the industrial park.

Resident Lynda Murphy of 17 Brookdale Road pleaded with board members to deny the variance request.

Owner of a 0.17-acre property, Murphy said granting the variance would be devastating to her home value and to her.

“I really, really love this little house,” she said about her 1,080 square foot home.  “It’s kind of emotionally saved my life.”

If the variance was granted, Murphy stood to be completely surrounded by commercial property.

“If the zoning board changes this and I need to get out of there, I can’t even do that,” she said.

Murphy told board members screening was an issue, showing examples of new sight lines to the neighboring property.

“All of my second-floor windows look right out on his property,” she said.  “I am encircled.”

Acting Chairman Steven Diantgikis sought input from the board regarding the request, which caused debate.  He told members to review the five criteria and assess if they felt the proposal should be approved.

“I think that the applicant has met several of the criteria, but falls flat on a couple,” he said.

Board member Robert Uttley was torn on the matter, seconding a motion to deny the variance but later withdrawing.

“He met most of the criteria,” Uttley said, but noted noise complaints from neighbors and storage bins for raw materials.

Arthur Nobrega opposed the project, saying surrounding property values would be diminished and adding the area was primarily residential.

A second motion was made to approve the variance but failed 2-2 with Uttley and Alternate George Perry in favor.

Chairman Gary Azarian and Secretary Bernie Campbell stepped down during the hearing due to ties to the applicant.