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City of Watertown mayor to propose amendment to residential zoning change

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The controversial zoning change pertaining to nonrelatives living together in residential neighborhoods will come up again at tonight’s Watertown City Council meeting.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham intends to introduce legislation that would amend the zoning change, which has been debated for weeks after the council approved it in February.

His proposed amendment is not expected to be discussed at length tonight, he said, adding it will be forwarded to the city Planning Board for its consideration.

On March 18, Mr. Graham instructed city staff to review the zoning language changed after a Thompson Boulevard homeowner, Deborah A. Cavallario, complained her neighbor was living with his fiancée and two friends in a single-family home in a Residential A district.

To get through the controversy, the mayor instructed staff to look at re-establishing the sentence council members removed that allowed “no more than four transient roomers” and applied to “accessory uses in residential districts.” As a result of the change, no transient roomers are allowed to live in Residential A districts.

In addition to putting that language back in the city’s zoning, Mr. Graham suggested looking at another section pertaining to the definition of family. He proposed keeping language that would allow “any number of individuals living together as a single housekeeping unit.” But he suggested removing the following language: “to distinguish it from a club, fraternity, or boardinghouse, not more than four members of a family shall be other than blood relatives.”

The Planning Board may take up his amendment at the April 9 meeting or the meeting in May. It also must go to the Jefferson County Planning Board.

If both of those boards approve the proposal, the city would hold a public hearing before voting on the mayor’s proposal.

Council members took up the so-called roommate law after the Planning Board approved it 6-1. Since then, Planning Board Chairwoman Sara S. Freda has said she regretted her vote because of the hoopla it caused.

The zoning change led to a torrent of criticism from people who think city leaders are trying to regulate lifestyles and living arrangements. Opponents insisted it would not be enforceable.

Council members Jeffrey M. Smith and Joseph M. Butler Jr. vehemently defended their vote, contending the media blew the issue out of proportion. They also argued they were trying to protect Residential A districts from boarding and rooming houses.

Mrs. Cavallario, 259 Thompson Blvd., objected to her neighbor’s living arrangement because her neighborhood, zoned Residential A, has only single-family houses. She had complained about the number of vehicles parked on Travis W. Hartman’s property. He recently married his fiancée.

The City Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the third-floor council chambers of City Hall, 245 Washington St.

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