Published in the February 4, 2016 edition


NORTH READING – The Zoning Board of Appeals cited neighborhood opposition in turning down the application of Francine Coughlin, owner of Bank ‘n Roll dog care and training business, to locate her business at 29 Main St.

ZBA member Joe Keyes said he could not vote in favor of the special permit given strong opposition expressed at the previous meeting Jan. 7 by residents from Damon and Gould streets and the fact that the town’s zoning bylaw requires weight be given to neighborhood impact.

ZBA member John Nelson voted in favor of granting the special permit but all ZBA votes must be unanimous by law. ZBA member Jennifer Platt also said she couldn’t support the permit.

Keyes noted there are other dog businesses in town with special permits but each application that comes before the board stands alone. The location, 29 Main St., is located in the Highway Business district and there’s a long list of businesses that can locate there by right, without the Board of Appeals blessing, he said. But a dog care and training business requires a special permit “and the way our (zoning) bylaw is written is the neighbors have a say.”

“I really want you to have a business in town,” Keyes said to Coughlin. “But given the amount of opposition and what our special permit guidelines say, I have to vote a reluctant no.”

Platt said the decision was very difficult because the board wants to support business and the abutters’ opposition was based on speculation rather than experience. She said her preference would have been for a trial period so the business could prove itself but there’s no real mechanism for that in the zoning law.

“There has to be a business in there but given the concerns of the neighbors, this isn’t one that I would support there,” she said.

If the ZBA had found its way clear to support the special permit, it would very likely have attached a requirement that Coughlin apply to the Community Planning Commission for site plan review, a process that can take three to six months.

Coughlin’s proposed location was a single family house located next to the Beyond Bagels building on Route 28, on the southerly side. The property is zoned commercial and at the present time it’s the house that’s a non-conforming use. Coughlin planned to run her dog care, training and boarding business there seven days a week and to improve the rundown appearance of the property.

Neighbors from Damon and Gould streets turned out at the first hearing in strong opposition, citing the possible disturbance of barking dogs from the business. They feared a negative impact on their property values and the quality of life in the neighborhood, saying this was not the right location for Coughlin’s business.

The hearing was attended by about 30 people, including Coughlin, supporters of the business and neighborhood residents. Because the ZBA had previously closed the public hearing, no one was allowed to speak except the ZBA members, who deliberated in public, reviewing the requirements of the zoning bylaw and explaining their reasoning.

Just looking at the 29 Main St. location itself without other considerations, Nelson said the site, by itself, is an appropriate use for the business. But Platt said the question depends on the needs of the neighborhood.

The difficult section of the zoning law the ZBA ran into requires that a requested use not “impair the integrity or character of the district, neighborhood or adjoining districts nor be detrimental to the public health, safety or convenience.”

Said Keyes: “That is where we heard direct testimony from the neighborhood that adjoins the Highway Business district saying it would be more detrimental of those residents.”

Platt agreed. “That is where it gets troublesome. This is a Highway Business district and we’d like to have businesses coming in and we support people in businesses but there is also a lot of concern from the abutting residential neighbors,” she said.

“If it didn’t adjoin a separate district, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” said Keyes. “It’s a very tough decision. She (Coughllin) is an asset to the town and would be a good business for the town.

“This is not simply a matter of saying ‘Not In My Back Yard,’ because the zoning bylaw says it can’t affect the welfare of adjoining districts,” Keyes said, summarizing the debate.