Neighbor Vs. Neighbor: What's A Family?

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The Watertown city council voted three to two to amend a minor portion of the city's zoning code.

It's a single line that says how many so-called "roomers" can live in a house in a residential neighborhood.

That line packed the house with people asking a big question: can the government define what a family is?
 
It all started on Thompson Boulevard after Debbie Cavallario learned her neighbors weren't a so-called "family."

Her next-door neighbor,Travis Hartman, lives with his fiance and two of his friends.

Cavallario brought a petition to the city planning board to stop housing arrangements like that.

The change removes a line that allows no more than four transient roomers to live in residential neighborhoods.

That line allows "the taking of not more than four nontransient roomers, provided that no sign is displayed."
 
Cavallario said in the public hearing she doesn't want housing situations like Hartman's -- with non-related people living in a Residential A zone -- to be a trend.

"The main idea of all of us on the petition and also in the audience tonight that it does not become something that's going to be a normal thing all the way through any Residential A neighborhood," she said.
 
Hartman says the people he lives with, although not related, are his family.

"I've known these people all my life and I'm closer to them than my own relatives," he said.

"Does that constitute not a family member to me even though I may look at them as a family member?"
 
Ironically, the change probably won't change much.

City planner Ken Mix says his department has neither the resources nor the legal ability to determine who's a family and who isn't.

The city's zoning code can be seen here.

Friday, July 25, 2014
, Watertown, NY

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