October 13, 2021 By Carol Britton Meyer
Hingham Yacht Club would like to replace an existing deteriorating barn located at 208 Downer Ave. with a two-story structure for the purpose of storing boats -- a proposal that has evoked support among some neighbors as well as abutter concerns.
At the beginning of the joint Zoning Board of Appeals/Planning Board remote hearing Tuesday night concerning this application -- continued from Sept. 13 -- Attorney Nate Amendola, representing two abutters, asked Planning Board member Gordon Carr to recuse himself because he is a member of the yacht club, although not an officer.
Carr was hesitant to do so because he said he had addressed this issue during the earlier HYC hearing -- stating that he felt sure he could "impartially judge" the proposal -- and that no one raised concerns at that time. Carr also said that Town Counsel told him during a related conversation that there was no reason for him to recuse himself as long as he disclosed that he is a HYC member.
That said, over the objections of some fellow board members, Carr decided to do just that because he didn't wish to prolong the review process and "at the request of the neighbors."
Further complicating matters, HYC Commodore Chris Burns reported that two neighbors have filed a lawsuit in land court claiming ownership by adverse possession of a portion of the property related to the barn proposal, noting, “The Club hasn’t yet been formally served -- we plan to respond vigorously.”
Burns explained that the current building -- which would be demolished if the proposal is ultimately approved -- has far exceeded “its estimated useful life, is in considerable disrepair, and is in the floodplain.”
He also noted that the architecture of the proposed new barn would “complement the club [building] and homes in the neighborhood.”
Burns also explained that at meetings with neighbors, some supported the project, “some gave conditional support, and some neighbors had concerns.
“We’re hopeful that we can move forward in a cooperative spirit and that all parties can act in good faith toward resolution of [these issues],” Burns said.
In response to concerns expressed by the boards and neighbors earlier, the original plan has been revised -- the proposed new building moved to a different location to minimize impacts on abutters -- and landscaping added -- mature white and red oaks and dogwoods mixed with evergreens and other plantings -- as a buffer to Marion Street.
The overall issue of parking at the 250-member club -- and especially regarding overspill into the surrounding neighborhood during large events -- was broached.
“I think the Club does a good job trying to manage parking, including when there is overflow,” Burns said. “Eight times this year we actually hired a police detail to direct traffic at the site. We’re committed to working with the neighborhood."
Marion Street resident Michael Kranzley made a “plea” for a partnership between the neighbors and HYC to resolve parking issues. “This [concern] is of a critical nature,” he said. “Parking cars illegally on Marion Street [despite the ‘no parking’ signs] cuts off the area from Cushing Avenue to the yacht club and prevents [access by] emergency vehicles. This is not just inconvenient, it’s dangerous.”
Kranzley said neighbors have called the police in the past, but he prefers to work with HYC for a better resolution.
ZBA Chair Robyn Maguire suggested he and other neighbors work directly with HYC for that purpose because it was beyond the scope of the proposal for either board to do so.
James Rader, a direct abutter, said while he appreciates the steps the yacht club has taken so far “to pull the building away from the property line, to add landscaping,” and other considerations, his main concern is the coastal bank in the area of the proposed new barn.
“Moving this new building 10 feet forward doesn't eliminate need to make a huge cut into the hillside,” Rader said. “These are mature trees that have been there for decades, and their root systems retain the bank, which I and others have seen move over the years.”
Some other neighbors share those concerns, according to Rader. “I earlier asked the yacht club if they could shrink the footprint of the building away from the coastal bank to preserve more of it in its current state.”
Merrill Street resident Sean O’Brien said that his main concern is the overall appearance of the proposed new structure. “It’s twice the size of the [existing] one and will affect the views of neighbors driving by twice a day to get bread or gas when there are no leaves on the trees,” he said.
O’Brien went on to say that “part of the charm of the neighborhood is the beauty of the water in combination with the yacht club. Is a two-story structure the only option?”
At the end of the 1-1/2-hour discussion, the public comment portion of the hearing was closed. Neither board was ready to take a vote.
The Planning Board continued its hearing to Oct. 25, and the ZBA its hearing until Nov. 16, at which time the respective boards will continue their deliberations
In other business at the meeting:
- The boards learned that Nicole Storey wished to withdraw without prejudice her earlier application to open a bakery/cafe at 84 North St. in downtown Hingham in the former Fitness Together space -- with all the baking done on the premises. Storey did not participate in the meeting.
This means that the proposal, while on hold for now, could be presented again for town review at a future date.