Island Official's Septic Permit Raises Issues of Zoning Rules
By CHRIS BURRELL
The operator of the Island's only two sewage treatment plants, who is also a member and former chairman of the Oak Bluffs board of health, may have sidestepped state environmental regulations when he applied for permits to have his old house demolished and a new one built in its place.
Joseph Alosso's property off County road sits in an area of town called Zone 2, where strict state and local regulations protect the town drinking water supply.
Two months ago, Mr. Alosso's own board granted him permission to install a new, four-bedroom septic system on his 7,405 square foot lot.
Mr. Alosso, who runs the wastewater treatment plants in both Edgartown and Oak Bluffs, told the board of health and the building department that he was simply replacing an existing four-bedroom house with a newly built one.
But under local assessor's rules, his existing house - an 824 square foot ranch - was listed as having only two bedrooms.
The difference is critical.
Under Zone 2 regulations, Mr. Alosso would never have been allowed to build a four-bedroom house on such a small parcel - unless one was already existing.
Board of health chairman Sari Budrow told the Gazette yesterday that any building in place now is grandfathered under zoning laws, but new construction or expansion of bedrooms is subject to the special regulations.
The main thrust of those rules is to limit the number of bedrooms allowed on an area of land and control the nitrogen loading from septic tanks and cesspools. The formula for construction in Zone 2 is prohibitive, allowing just one bedroom per quarter-acre of land, roughly 10,000 square feet.
Mr. Alosso, who has been a board of health member since 1998, said that when he bought the ranch house in 1995, it had four bedrooms, two of them in a finished basement.
"There were always four bedrooms. That's correct," he said yesterday when contacted at his office at the Edgartown wastewater treatment plant. "I never finished the basement off. It was finished when I bought it."
According to information on file with the Oak Bluffs assessor, Mr. Alosso's property is officially a two bedroom house.
"Below grade, you don't count bedrooms," said Oak Bluffs assessor Diane Wilson.
The assessor's records indicate in the notes that the house has two bedrooms in the basement, but there are no records at either the board of health or the building department about additional bedrooms in the house at 53 Carol Lane. The last time assessors actually inspected the property was in 1988.
The previous owner of the house - Patricia Downey of North Quincy - told the Gazette that in 1995 when she sold the house to Mr. Alosso, it was a two bedroom ranch.
Basement bedrooms are subject to very specific state building codes, mandating that the maximum height of window sills be 44 inches above the floor and the windows should measure at least 20 by 24 inches in size.
Ms. Budrow said that the board of health treats the Zone 2 regulations very seriously. "As much as some of us don't like it, we have to adhere to it ... in fairness to everybody," she said.
But she added that the board also places a lot of weight on how many bedrooms are already in place. "If they're existing when we go in, we can't take it away from them," the board of health chairman said.
Neither the board of health nor the health agent Shirley Fauteux made any inspections of Mr. Alosso's now-demolished ranch house before granting the new septic permit last August.
Seven years ago, when Mr. Alosso bought the house, the board of health voted that the two cesspools on the lot were adequate to handle the wastewater from the house. The decision - rendered April 4, 1995 - made no mention of how many bedrooms were in the house.
According to minutes of last August's meeting, Mr. Alosso told his fellow board members that he did not want Ms. Fauteux approving his septic application because he was her boss and was concerned about conflicts of interest.
"(Mr. Alosso) said his present house has four bedrooms and the new house will have four bedrooms," the minutes stated.
Ms. Fauteux then raised some concern that an office would be considered a fifth bedroom under state regulations called Title V. "Mr. Alosso contended that the intent of the room is to be an office, not a bedroom," the minutes stated.
Ms. Budrow and William White, the other board of health member, then approved the application for the septic system permit.According to the minutes, board of health members made no mention of the special regulations in the Zone 2 area - a 1,148-acre swath of Oak Bluffs designated in 1995 to protect one of the town wells for public drinking water.