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Council changes zoning for roommates in residential neighborhoods

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In a split vote, the Watertown City Council decided on Monday night to make a change in the city’s zoning ordinance that forbids roommates from moving into a residential neighborhood and living in a single-family house.

The issue came up in December after Thompson Boulevard resident Deborah A. Cavallario found out that next-door neighbor Travis W. Hartman had his fiancée and two friends living with him in his single-family home at 257 Thompson Blvd.

She objected because it’s a residential neighborhood with only single-family homes. The neighborhood is zoned as Residential A.

In the 3-2 vote Monday night, council members decided to eliminate a single sentence from the city code pertaining to a reference allowing “no more than four transient roomers” to live in a house in a residential district.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham and Councilwoman Teresa R. Macaluso opposed the change. Council members Joseph M. Butler Jr., Jeffrey M. Smith and Roxanne M. Burns voted for it. The two sides disagreed whether the change would mean the city was defining what makes up a family.

During a public hearing before the vote, Mr. Hartman tried to convince council members that he invited his friends to live with him because he had just purchased the house last February and needed some help because he “was just starting out.”

“All I’m trying to do is live a normal life, a quiet life,” he said.

Mr. Hartman also wondered how the city could stop boyfriends and girlfriends, domestic partners and soldiers from buying a house and living together.

But the three council members who supported the change said the city had to make sure that the characteristic of Residential A zones are protected. Other zoned districts allow for such arrangements, they said.

“You start to blur the lines,” Mr. Butler said.

Mrs. Cavallario, who lives at 259 Thompson Blvd., first brought up the issue with the city’s Planning Board, which recommended making the change in the zoning ordinance. She also gathered 80 signatures on a petition requesting that unrelated people not be allowed to live in a single-family house in a district zoned Residential A.

At Monday night’s public hearing, Mrs. Cavallario said she hoped Mr. Hartman and his friends “would be grandfathered in” and continue to live there. But she said the situation should not become “normal in our neighborhood.”

The city’s Planning Department had previously determined the zoning change will not impact Mr. Hartman and his friends.

During the public hearing, Linda A. Morrison, another Thompson Boulevard neighbor, and Planning Board member William R. Davis Jr. also lobbied for council members to vote against the change. They both argued it would be difficult for the city to enforce.

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