Oakley Country Club Taking Town to Court Over ZBA’s Ruling on Wall

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Oakley Country Club is appealing the Zoning Board’s decision that ruled that the wall that went up near Oakley and Arden roads was built without proper permitting from the Town. The case was filed in the State Land Court.

The case of the wall built by Oakley Country Club on the edge of their property will continue, after the club filed an appeal in state Land Court to try to overturn the Zoning Board of Appeals ruling that the wall was built without getting proper permits from the Town.

The appeal was filed in Land Court on Sept. 25, and notice was sent to the Watertown Town Clerk’s office on Sept. 26. It asks the court to overturn the ZBA’s decision that the project should not receive a building permit and needed a special permit to proceed.

The wall, which was part of a project that Oakley officials said was designed to improve drainage in the area began in late 2018 after receiving a storm water and erosion control permit from the Watertown Department of Public Works.

Along with the wall, the land behind it was filled and leveled with soil. It was built near the end of Oakley’s practice range. Neighbors say the project has cause flooding problems and previous versions of the plan put up a large protective netting near the wall.

The wall was built near Arden and Oakley roads in January 2019. Part of the work involved removing trees and vegetation from the area where the wall was built.

Oakley retroactively filed for a building permit in March, and the the Zoning Enforcement Officer received an email from the club asking if a special permit was needed to install protective netting on the property, according to the ZBA’s written ruling. A stop work order was issued by the Town’s Zoning Enforcement Officer in April, which Oakley appealed to the ZBA in September. The ZBA ruling means Oakley has a few options: seek a special permit from the Town, restore the area to its former condition, or appeal the decision.

In the court filing, Oakley’s attorneys acknowledge that the project engineer did not obtain a building permit for the wall. They then unsuccessfully appealed the decision. The ZBA based its decision on the fact that the project required a special permit because it was a “change or substantial extension of use” of the land.

Just as they did at the ZBA hearing, Oakley’s attorneys appeal argues that the decision to build a wall requires only a building permit, not a special permit because the land was being used for the same thing as it has since the 1800s — as a golf course.

“None of the construction of a retaining wall, grading, tree removal or landscaping constitute a ‘change or substantial extension of’ the pre-existing use of the property as a country club,” the court filing reads. “The determination of the Zoning Board to deny the appeal of Oakley and sustain the Zoning Enforcement Officer’s determination that the above described work required a Special Permit exceeded the authority of the Zoning Board.”

They add that if the work is considered a “use” that the project did not change the use, or a “substantial extension” of the use.

During the Zoning Board’s hearing, neighbors said they had no communication from Oakley before the project began, and neighbors near the wall experienced substantial flooding of their property after the wall went up.

In its ruling, the ZBA referred to the town’s Zoning Ordinance, which states, “no such change, extension, structural change or alteration shall be permitted unless there is a Special Permit Finding by the Board of Appeals such that change, extension or alteration shall not be substantially more detrimental than the existing non-conforming use, structure or building to the neighborhood.”

The town’s Planning Department staff said the work, including changes to the vegetative screening, significant grade changes and the height of the retaining wall that abuts neighboring properties warranted review by the ZBA to see if a Special Permit is required, with or without the protective screening.

ZBA was not convinced that the wall was needed just to improve drainage, and that the project was meant to extend the driving range.

During the hearing, Oakley’s representatives said they do not plan to extend the distance of the practice range above the current 165 feet, and said they have no intention of putting up the screening.

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