WOBURN - In an unusual change-of-heart, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) last week granted a Border Street landowner permission to build a two-and-a-half story residence by the Winchester line.

After twice slating the petition to the rejection pile, the ZBA in a 4-to-1 vote recently agreed to issue East Woburn resident Mark Donnellan a special permit to raze an existing 2,394 square foot house and erect a new prefabricated two-family residence at 13 Border St.

The quiet side street, where eight homes are situated, sits right on the city's border with Winchester off of Main Street by Cross Street. Per the ZBA decision, the landlord must comply with the city's building height restrictions for the neighborhood, and the petitioner is required to provide two "non-tandem" parking spaces off of the driveway.

The recent breakthrough came after the petitioner, who purchased the undersized 8,700 square foot property last January for $500,000, agreed to several architectural modifications in order to address neighborhood concerns about the aesthetics of the rental property.

Specifically, in order to improve the look of the front of the new two-family, the petitioner agreed to add multiple window shutters and various trim details.

"Part of the concern was that front facade. It was just kind of a wall of siding," explained Donnellan, referring to objections to the design voiced last month by Border Street abutter Casey Bauer.

In an unusual series of events, Donnellan's petition was twice denied by the ZBA, which first rejected the special permit request last June, when the landlord failed to show-up for the introductory public hearing on the matter.

During that initial ZBA discussion, several other Border Street abutters spoke against the project, as they felt the development was out-of-character with the rest of the neighborhood.

However, immediately after that June meeting, ZBA Chairman Margaret Pinkham, upon learning that Donnellan's absence was due to a family emergency, formally filed a motion to reconsider her vote. In July, the ZBA unanimously agreed to revive the petition.

According to the applicant, he had considered renovating the existing residence, which dates back to 1880, but the failing condition of the roof and other factors made such an undertaking too costly. He told the ZBA that the new two-family residence, though about 50 percent larger than the existing structure, would be in better compliance with existing zoning regulations.

Specifically, the pre-existing, non-conforming property, which currently sits about 6.9-feet from the front lot line, would be shifted back to a 20-foot distance. The new home, to be situated about 20-feet from the rear setback, would still fail to meet the city's 30-foot standard.

With neighborhood abutters renewing their objections to the redevelopment in July, the ZBA again in a 3-to-2 vote denied the project. However, moments after that decision, board member John Ryan suggested that Donnellan be given a chance to work out a compromise with his neighbors.

Ultimately Ryan, asking to reconsider his vote, convinced his peers to revive the defeated special permit talks for the second time. That unanimous vote in turn set up last week's discussion on the proposal.

During last week's hearing, Ryan and board member John Ray, though satisfied with the neighborhood compromise, expressed several concerns with the proposed parking arrangement at the new two-family property.

Pointing out that on-street parking appears to be a problem in the area, the ZBA members worried that tenants at 13 Border St., trying to avoid being boxed into the driveway, would resort to parking in the street.

To resolve that potential problem, Ryan proposed adding a condition that required Donnellan to create two additional non-tandem parking spaces to the side of the driveway. In doing so, tenants utilizing the garage would be able to back out of the driveway without having to ask their neighbors to move their cars out of the way.

"At one point, you indicated you might mitigate the on-street parking [concerns] by having the driveway go off to the side, so cars aren't in front of the garage," said Ryan. "I think that anything that will encourage off-street parking should be done."

Though citing no reason for his dissent, ZBA member Edward Robertson was the lone person to vote against the issuance of the special permit.

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