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Multiple residents irritate Thompson Blvd. neighbor; Planning Board looks at law

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After buying a house at 257 Thompson Blvd. last February, Travis W. Hartman asked his fiancée and a couple of his friends to move in with him.

But next-door neighbor Deborah A. Cavallario was not happy a man in his 20s could be allowed to have his buddies move into the single-family house when the neighborhood was zoned Residence A.

Only a single family should be allowed to live there; otherwise, it was a boarding house, she thought. But she found out from the city Code Enforcement Office there was nothing to prevent Mr. Hartman’s friends from living there.

“Some of the neighbors have lived on Thompson Boulevard for 30, 35 years,” she told the city Planning Board last week. “I’m concerned it’s no longer a single-family home.”

But the situation raises two questions: What makes up a family? And do homeowners have the right to say who lives in their homes?

The subject of Mr. Hartman’s living arrangements came before the Planning Board on Tuesday after the Watertown City Council instructed the board to review it.

Mrs. Cavallario did not say Mr. Hartman was having loud parties. She complained only about the number of SUVs parked daily in front of the two-bedroom, ranch-style home. At first, it was hard to figure out what was happening at the residence because Mr. Hartman told her he and his brother lived there, she said. He later admitted to her “four friends” shared the home, she said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Hartman said his “fiancée and friends” were living in the 1,236-square-foot house in a residential neighborhood. While acknowledging the situation had become a neighbor dispute, Mr. Hartman said the living arrangements were no one’s business, stressing the Code Enforcement Office found nothing in city codes to prevent his friends from living there.

He also said his roommates are not tenants. They don’t pay rent, so their money is not going toward his mortgage, he said; instead, they share the cost of groceries. He declined to comment further.

To distinguish it from a club, fraternity or boarding house, a family consists of “any number of individuals living together as a single-housekeeping unit,” as long as they do not include more than four people who are not “blood relatives,” according to city code.

But the Planning Board decided to intervene.

“I feel for your situation because I wouldn’t be happy,” Planning Board member Lori J. Gervera, a local real estate agent, told Mrs. Cavallario during the lengthy discussion at the meeting.

By a 5-1 vote, the Planning Board agreed to take steps to ensure friends no longer are allowed to move into a house in a Residence A zone district. They also recommended eliminating a single sentence from the city code, pertaining to a reference that allowed “no more than four transient roomers” living in a house in a residential district.

They also recommended the City Council look at the definition of a family. But Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s planning and community development coordinator, warned it would be “a constitutional quagmire” to figure out what makes up a modern family.

And Planning Board member William R. David Jr. objected to changing the ordinance, contending “it would be unenforceable.” Shawn R. McWayne, the code enforcement supervisor, said Friday he believes the situation will be permitted — even with the changes.

The City Council has the final say on the changes.

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