In May, Dan York, of Shelburne, wanted to add a front porch to his home on Longmeadow Drive.

He was surprised to find he legally could not, because the porch would be too close to his front lot line.

York went to the planning commission for help. 

“There was a time when people did everything in their backyards, and now we’ve kind of switched back to front yards to be more social, and the zoning just hadn’t caught up,” York said.

He, his wife and two children, who have lived in Shelburne for two years, would be forced to build the porch on the back of their house to conform to current regulations if the proposals do not pass.

York and others in Shelburne will be able to build porches and expand their homes more easily if the selectboard approves two zoning amendments after a public hearing in January.

The changes deal with setbacks and nonconforming structures that may have met zoning regulations at the time they were built, but don’t comply now.

The nonconforming structure amendment is specific to the town’s rural zoning district.

Planning Commission Chair Jason Grignon said his panel wanted to work with the community to find solutions to issues property owners encountered during a time when people are spending more time at home because of COVID.

“It was a type of thing that was driven by the pandemic with people wanting to be outside more,” Grignon said of some residents’ interest in adding porches to their homes. 

Discussions about one amendment started in April when a family discovered the planned expansion to their home on Shelburne-Hinesburg Road would violate the setback requirement in the rural zone.

“If they had followed the regulations as they currently stand, the addition would be smaller than they would like. Under this proposal, they could do a larger addition,” zoning and planning director Dean Pierce said.

The proposed amendment would allow owners of older homes that don’t meet setback requirements in the Rural District to expand their homes as long as the expansion does not exceed 100 percent of the current building’s footprint or 1,500 square feet, whichever is greater. Accessory structures or buildings that are not houses cannot top 25 percent of the existing building’s footprint or 750 square feet, whichever is greater.

Also, the expansion cannot have an adverse effect on the neighborhood or adjacent properties. 

The modification would allow families to eliminate the step of going to the Development Review Board to get approval, as long as the structure does not have any alternative uses. Requests would be approved by the zoning office.

The second amendment would grant more flexibility for homeowners who want add a new porch, deck or enclosed patio without violating front setback requirements. Those additions could extend eight feet from the house, as long as they are 5 feet from the property line or right-of-way line.

The current definition of setbacks does not allow property owners like York to add anything that would impinge on a setback zone except for awnings and small sets of stairs.

The zoning proposals were brought to the selectboard on Oct. 27 and a public hearing was set for Jan. 26. Pierce explained that the amendments would go into place 21 days after the hearing if they are approved by the selectboard. That allows time for Shelburne residents to voice concerns or objections to the proposals, Pierce said.

York said he hopes the amendments pass so that he and others are able to line up contractors for next building season after the snow melts.

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