Somerset Zoning Recodification

In September 2018, the Town of Somerset embarked on an approximately eighteen-month planning process to update the town-wide Master Plan. Since then, the Town has begun to implement many of the plan's recommendations. The Master Plan set forth policy goals and strategies for the community, including the need for Zoning By-law amendments. At the 2019, Somerset Town Meeting, residents voted to endorse land use changes outlined in the Somerset Master Plan by voting to secure funding for recodification of the Zoning By-law, and revise the Planned Development process to be clearly written, organized for easy use, internally consistent, reflective of the Master Plan and in compliance with M.G.L. Chapter 40A and current case law.

The Town of Somerset Zoning Recodification Committee is made up of representatives of the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, a local resident, the Zoning Enforcement Officer, and the Town Planner. The committee has been working with the Town's legal consultant since April 2020 to recodify and update the Town's Zoning By-laws. But what is this initiative and why is it important?

Codify in its strict interpretation means to put into a code, systematize, and classify. Re-codify then means to "re-code, re-systematize, re-classify" or more simply put "re-format and re-organize". Reformatting and reorganization is one focus of the Zoning Recodification Committee's project and includes such things as formatting and organizational changes, adding and improving definitions, and eliminating illegal, unnecessary, or out-of-date by-laws.

In addition to reorganizing and reforming, there are also updates, changes, and additions to the existing Zoning By-laws that are being considered as part of this current initiative. The updates, changes, and additions are intended to create regulations that are easier to understand, provide greater guidance to permitting Boards, reduce redundancy, and help align Zoning regulations with the goals and objectives of the Town's Master Plan.

To answer why the committee is undertaking this initiative, consider that Somerset's original Zoning By-law and map were adopted in 1955. Many changes have been made since then - ranging from adding and changing definitions, dimensional requirements, and uses, to adding entirely new sections to allow, prohibit or condition new development. Somerset's Zoning By-laws today include regulations based on both past and present goals and best practices, in large part organized by date of changes and have outdated and overlapping sections. The Zoning Recodification and Update initiative allows the Town an opportunity to make its Zoning regulations easier to understand, administer, enforce, and align Zoning regulations with current land use goals, best practices, and municipal capacity.

The committee is taking on specific aspects of the Zoning By-law identified in the recodification process including the four phases of work for the project. These phases include an audit phase, a diagnostic phase, drafting of Sections 1 to 6, and adoption at a town meeting at the 2021 Annual Town Meeting. Phase I consisted of a comprehensive review of the Zoning By-law for consistency with applicable state law, clarity of text, outdated text, and organizational issues. This provided an opportunity for counsel to identify ways in which the By-law may be revised to guide and promote the Town's planning objectives and policies. Phase II, based upon the results of Phase I, counsel provided a comprehensive, diagnostic report, identifying the housekeeping, organizational, and legal issues that should be addressed as part of the recodification and revision process. The diagnostic report includes recommendations for strengthening and clarifying existing provisions, an explanation of changes that are required to bring the By-law into compliance with State law; recommendations for eliminating provisions that are outdated or unnecessary; and recommendations for new or updated definitions.

In lieu of public meetings due to COVID-19 and the extensive subject matter the Zoning Recodification Committee encourages town residents, land, and business owners to take part in this planning initiative to assure that we are all working together for a strong and resilient Somerset. For any questions, please feel free to call our zoning hotline at: 508-646-2809 or 508-646-2805 from 3:30 - 4, Monday through Friday.

Presently, the committee with legal counsel has completed Sections 1 - Purpose, Section 2 - Definitions and Section 3 - Districts and Boundaries, Section 4 - Principal Use Regulations/Table of Principal Uses and Section 5 - Dimensional Regulations and Table of Use, Section 6 - General Provisions of the Somerset Zoning By-laws and Section 12 - Administration and Section 13 - Site Plan Review replaces portions of Section 7 and Section 6 of the Somerset Zoning By-laws. Section 15 - Parking, the language is taken directly out of Section 6 and creates a separate section devoted just to parking.

On August 12, 2020, the Zoning Recodification Committee sponsored a Zoning Bylaw Informational meeting in order to gain more insight and feedback regarding how the residents and businesses in the community are utilizing the regulatory process and to assist in guiding the outcome of drafting the bylaws. Below is the link to the presentation: