An unusual request to allow a camper in the backyard of a small lot on Ploughed Neck Road in East Sandwich turned into a sticky wicket for the Sandwich Board of Selectmen Thursday, June 3.
Miriam Marotta, the owner of the small house at 103 Ploughed Neck Road, told the selectmen in a letter that her son—a firefighter in another municipality—bought the camper during the COVID-19 pandemic so that he could have a safe sleeping area if he had to quarantine himself from his family.
He would now like to bring the camper to his parents’ Cape Cod home and place it in the backyard.
“East Sandwich is a special place that gives respite to the stresses of both work and life, providing a key ingredient to a positive work/life balance,” Ms. Marotta wrote. “By granting this permit our family can stay safe, follow proper social distance protocols and enjoy each other at our home that we have owned and cherished for over 40 years.”
When Ms. Marotta addressed the selectmen in person last night, she did not mention the COVID connection. She did say, however, that per the town bylaw governing campers, her son would only stay in the camper for 30 days per year.
The selectmen did not react enthusiastically.
Selectman David J. Sampson said that in his five years on the board, the selectmen had only granted permission for one temporary camper. In that case, the homeowner’s house had burned down and he was requesting to place a camper in his driveway so that he could live on the property while rebuilding the house.
“Even with that [the neighbors’ knowledge that the house burned down] we got complaints about generator noise and the septic system,” Mr. Sampson said. “I would really need to hear from your neighbors—they can either appear or write letters of support.”
Selectman Shane T. Hoctor said he was concerned that if the selectmen granted permission for this camper, they would have to approve many more.
“It would almost be like an accessory dwelling unit for other family members,” Mr. Hoctor said. “I don’t want this to turn into an annual thing.”
Chairman Michael J. Miller said he was concerned about the septic hook-up. A letter from the health director regarding the camper request said the applicant must be able to provide permanent septic and fresh water hook-ups.
In addition, Mr. Miller said, the camper would barely fit within the property lines and bringing the camper to the site would require traversing the neighbor’s property.
“You’d certainly have to have your neighbor’s permission for that,” Mr. Miller said.
There was also a question about clearing a portion of the backyard to accommodate the camper. The property is bounded in the back by water, and much of the backyard growth is in a protected conservation buffer zone, Mr. Miller said.
Clearing in a protected buffer zone would have to be okayed by the conservation commission, Mr. Miller said.
The selectmen suggested that Ms. Marotta do some research to answer the board’s many concerns and come back—with the neighbors’ blessings—to a future selectmen’s meeting.
Ms. Marotta’s son, Michael Marotta, who also appeared at the meeting, took the selectmen to task for not helping to solve the problem.
Mr. Sampson replied that the selectmen were part of the process only because the bylaw specifies that the board must give permission for campers on single-family properties.
In denser neighborhoods, the neighbors’ approval is crucial, he said.
“We are elected by all the people all over town,” he said. “I am just trying to be equitable.”