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Small business bylaw ready for approval at town meeting

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW After much deliberation and compromise and three months after the issue was first brought up at Special Town Meeting, an amended bylaw concerning home based business trades has been created, thanks to both the Planning Board and the East Longmeadow Small Business Association (ELSBA).

Both Planning Board Chair Marilyn Richards and Planning, Zoning and Conservation Director Robyn MacDonald worked feverishly on the language for the bylaw, some 20 items in length, since the last few issues were hammered out at the groups' meeting last week. The bylaw was read for review during the board's Jan. 8 meeting.

Richards said before the reading she thought the document was "pretty complete."

The bylaw, which will be submitted by ELSBA before the petitioned article deadline of Jan. 15, stated all existing non-conforming home based business services, such as builders, carpenters, painters, plumbers, landscapers or similar persons working from home in residential areas must apply for a special permit from the Planning Board to continue their work. If the bylaw is approved of at the Annual Town Meeting, those existing businesses must apply for a permit before Dec. 31, 2008.

In order to obtain a special permit, small business owners must provide proof of their business with excise tax bills, plot layouts and all vehicles, trailers and wheeled accessories, as well as materials and chemicals, must be listed.

Richards told Reminder Publications that the criteria for a special permit may not address every non-conforming business in town. "It's not a sure-fire conclusion," she warned. "It depends on the site, input from neighbors and some existing businesses may have to reduce their fleet of trucks or rent space to store them."

The rules for home based business trades were discussed until clear: Six percent of a business owners property, excluding wetlands, may be used for garaged or screened storage to the rear of the lot's main structure, and not more than 20 percent of a residence may be utilized for the business. The number of employee vehicles would be limited to the number of work vehicles, with no on-street parking allowed. No retail or wholesale activities or manufacturing on site would be permitted either. There must be no change to the exterior of the residence facing the street and no signs advertising the business would be allowed.

The number of work vehicles allowed per square foot remained the same: at a minimum of 10,000 square feet, one truck and one trailer would be permitted; 20,000 square feet, two trucks and two trailers; 30,000 square feet, three trucks and three trailers; 40,000 square feet, four trucks and four trailers; and 60,000 square feet and above would be limited to five trucks and five trailers.

Trucks would be limited to no more than six wheels and two axles with a maximum wheel base of 210 inches. Ten-wheeled vehicles, box trucks and tractor trailers would not be allowed. Trailer beds and bodies can be no longer than 22 feet in length. All trucks and trailers would be in the rear of the main structure, adhering to all setbacks, and must be either garaged or screened (by fencing or plants) or from street view.

Once all questions were answered and revisions were agreed upon, ELSBA spokesperson John Maybury said, "Everybody can agree we've got a good working consensus. We've solved a significant thing that needed to be solved."

One of the main proponents of the bylaw change, Sandro Meccia of Mec's Landscaping, wanted the residents of East Longmeadow to understand this bylaw was developed not to bring new businesses and people into the town, but rather to protect those that have lived and worked here their entire lives.

"This is for the people who will be here for the long run," Meccia told Reminder Publications.

Tom Wilson, president of ELSBA, agreed. "This is only for pre-existing, non-conforming businesses only," he stated. "We're expecting to keep the harmony with our neighbors. We don't want to open the floodgates."

Wilson added, "If there's not a business next to you today, there won't be one there tomorrow." He continued by saying he doesn't want the neighborhood to turn into a business zone. "We're only trying to keep what's here here."

Richards, who will be leaving the Planning Board in April, said she was "pleased with the document presented" at the Jan. 8 meeting.

"Our combined effort met the requirements of the mandate issued to the board to create this bylaw," she said. "The one presented at the last town meeting was a zoning nightmare. If the town chooses to support the new bylaw, there will be good, consistent standards to rely on."

If approved, Richards said she is concerned about the impact of the bylaw. "A bylaw is only as good as how it's enforced," she said. "This is one of the most challenging issues we [the Planning Board] have dealt with. This bylaw is about taking care of neighborhoods and taking care of families."

She added she is expecting a large turnout at the Annual Town Meeting in May. "I have no doubt there will be passionate, spirited debate on both sides of the issue," she said.