Of Cottage Colonies, RV Parks and Seasons

In November 2010 we adopted the Seasonal Resort Community Zoning By-law.  The new zoning provided, for the first time, zoning directly targeted towards allowing cottage colonies and recreational vehicle parks as allowed uses  Prior to this zoning, cottage colonies were a non-conforming use subject to a regulation essentially based upon its definition:

COTTAGE COLONY A group of three (3) or more buildings on a lot, which are devoted to residential use on a seasonal basis.

And Town General By-law restrictions:

164-7  It shall be unlawful to remain or live in any tourist camp for more than ninety (90) days in any six-month period, excepting, of course, bona fide employees.

The definition simply establishes that the structures are “seasonal” and not year-round housing.  The General By-law limited stays, but in a manner which allows for two 3 month seasons.  Essentially providing both summer season, Memorial Day until about Labor Day, and off-season access which averages out to about 10 days per month there-after, but could provide for a solid two or three week (or even 3 month) stay around the winter holidays.

When we crafted the Seasonal Resort Community By-law, there was a strong desire among the cottage owners to have a “season” established in the By-law. This was desired as property owners, cottage and RV owners had no firm guidelines as to the appropriate “season” and most access exceeded the general by-law provisions. By firmly defining the “season” and access during the “season” we created a need to address the “off-season.”

In addressing the off-season in the rezoning, we created a dichotomy.  The other cottage colonies along Old Wharf Road, Lower County Road, Sea Street, or anywhere else in town not located in the Seasonal Resort Community continue to be governed by the Dennis General By-law provisions which allow for significant levels of off-season access to their cottages.  Within the Seasonal Resort Community District off-season access was restricted.

Originally we proposed allowing ten days of access per month, over the 5 off-season months, providing 50 days of off-season access.  Due to questions that arose at the end of the lengthy process, essentially at the zero hour for getting the proposal to November Town Meeting, this was modified to 4 days per month. In accepting this compromise the Economic Development Committee noted it was an issue that could always be revisited later.

The EDC is now recommending the town revisit the issue.  They are recommending that the cottages and RV’s in the Seasonal Resort Community District, if they are winterized, be allowed to be used for up to 15 days per month during the off-season. This is, actually, still more restrictive than what the General By-law places on cottages located outside of the Seasonal Resort Community Zoning District.  The General By-law, while limiting total number of days to 90 in any six month period, does not restrict the actual length of stay. In essence, this means a cottage in a colony located outside the Seasonal Resort Community Zoning District could be occupied for a solid 90 day time period in the middle of winter, and not impact the cottage’s summer use.

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3 thoughts on “Of Cottage Colonies, RV Parks and Seasons

  1. Hi Dan.
    What sorts of advantages do cottages in the SRC enjoy that cottages in “the other cottage colonies” might not experience? If we move to change the SRC to establish seasonal parity, should those “other cottage colonies” not deserve some of those advantages (if any) that are only afforded to the cottages in the SRC? Just wondering.

  2. I’ll get back to you on that, every colony is a bit different. There are some with sizable footprints that exceed the levels we are allowing in the SRC. I will go through some of the colonies I have dealt with and give you more feedback.

  3. Interestingly, there are a wide variety of properties which fall under the “cottage colony” definition in the Dennis Zoning By-law. As to size and shape of the structures, much of it has relied upon exactly what the condominium association has considered appropriate, and the relief the Board of Appeals has been willing to grant. The Board of Appeals provides significant weight, both pro and con, to how the association might view changes. As such, there are a number or cottages in colonies that the ZBA has granted expansions to. Taking a quick look at a handful of properties which would qualify as cottage colonies outside of the Seasonal Resort Community Zoning District, I find cottages with footprints as large as almost 1,500 sf; one property where every unit is two stories; many cottages in the 700+ sf footprint size; and ZBA permits for expansions of many of the units that have come before it. I also find denials by the ZBA, but in most of these cases the denial occurred due to association issues with the expansion. I have also taken a quick look at a couple condominium association by-laws. Their occupancy allowances are fairly liberal, some far more liberal than the zoning and general by-law restrictions might allow. Unfortunately, the largest issue facing these other cottage colonies is that they do not share any geographical relationship to one another or are of adequate size (except one in West Dennis) to allow for a rezoning into the SRC and avoid issues of Spot Zoning. Generally, the Attorney General does not look favorably on creating a one acre or so sized zoning district, even if there is a valid land consideration for such a change. In the case of the West Dennis colony, where the ZBA has approved a couple of changes in recent years, I had encouraged their participation in the rezoning. The members I talked to, ones who were considering modifications while we were working on the SRC by-law wanted to take a “wait and see” approach.

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