Public hearing sparks lengthy discussion on front yard storage in Wareham

Mar 11, 2019

Proposed changes to a town bylaw regarding front yard storage yielded lengthy discussion on Monday night from Wareham’s Planning Board and concerned residents, including Selectman candidate Jim Munise.

While the board ultimately voted to recommend sending the revised bylaw to voters at Spring Town Meeting as written, the proposed amendments on how property owners can store their items drew sharp criticism and concern.

“People pay taxes on their property and they should have a right to keep whatever they want on it,” Munise said.

If approved by voters on April 22, the revised bylaw would see that no person or property has more than one unregistered vehicle, vessel, trailer, camper or “parts there of” stored outside of a garage. The only exception to this would be with written permission from the Board of Selectmen or a valid business certificate.

As Building Commissioner David Riquinha explained, this bylaw against unregistered vehicles has already been in place in Wareham for quite some time. The addition of the word “vessels,” which would encompass all boats and water crafts, is the newest piece.

A second change to the bylaw would also require businesses with motorized service equipment of any type, not for sale or rent, to be kept behind a fence high enough to hide them from view if approved by Town Meeting. 

The changes, Riquinha said, were being put forward in response to a large number of complaints received by the Department of Inspectional Services each year.

“We’ve received numerous complaints that we can do nothing about,” Riquinha said. “We just don’t have the enforcement power. Changing the language in this bylaw gives us the framework we need.”

Members of the Planning Board, however, were unconvinced that the proposed changes would have their desired effect if approved. Similar changes to this zoning bylaw have gone before Town Meeting voters three times and failed.

Planning Board member Marc Bianco was especially vocal on his feelings, saying that these changes would make residents “jump through hoops.”

“There’s a lot of small pieces of property I don’t think can accommodate these changes,” Bianco said. “If I live on the water in Shangri La and I have nine canoes for me and my family, where else can I store them but the front yard? Even if I owned two canoes, would I have to go before the Selectmen for a variance?”

“I don’t see that as jumping through hoops, Mark,” Riquinha replied. “We’re just asking people to abide by our town’s bylaws which are already in place.”

“It seems this pushes more traffic for variances to the Selectmen,” said Planning Board Chairman George Barrett. “And I’m not sure that’s something we want.”

Riquinha addressed these concerns by saying that the Department of Inspectional Services only acts on complaints received from residents and town employees. Each violator is given a verbal warning, then a written warning, before being cited by the department.

The first offense is $200, and Riquinha noted that each case has a right of appeal to the Zoning Board.

Bill Hobbs, the owner of Cape Cod Mooring Systems on Cranberry Highway, expressed frustration with the bylaw during the public hearing, saying that businesses like his were being specifically targeted. He also expressed concern that the use of the word “vessel” was too vague.

Planning Board members agreed that Hobbs concerns were relevant, but would be best expressed on the Town Meeting floor.

“This is ultimately going before voters to decide,” Bianco said. “And if someone wants to watch the four hour tape of this meeting and bring up the things we’ve talked about tonight, I welcome them to do it.”