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Massachusetts Town Bylaw Helps First Responders Find Addresses

PEPPERELL - Pepperell adopted a street-number bylaw last fall to assist emergency responders, and implementation of those rules is set to begin this spring. The bylaw requires all residents to provide house numbers that are "clearly visible" from the road to ensure that first responders can easily find a given home, said town Planning Administrator Susan Snyder. "If you don't display a number at your home, it's going to take longer for them to respond," she said. "That can be a matter of life or death." 

The bylaw was adopted by Town Meeting voters last October, alongside an amendment to the town's common driveway bylaw, which will require such access-ways to be named. Information about those changes is currently being featured on the town website, as the local assessor's office is putting together an implementation plan for the new regulations. 

Asked what all this could entail for residents, Assistant Assessor Susan Smith said it could mean anything from relocating a house number to an address change, depending on the circumstances. For starters, Smith said the bylaw specifies that roadside numbers must be at least three-inches tall, placed at least three feet above the ground, and located not more than 20 feet from the road. It also prohibits posting the numbers on mailboxes, telephone poles, or trees, for a variety of reasons. "With mailboxes they're sometimes across the street or bunched together and that doesn't work," said Smith. "With the utility poles, the residents don't own those, so they don't have a right to put the numbers there." Finally, Smith said the house numbers will need to match what's on file at the assessor's office, saying those cases would be subject to change-of-address notices, once enforcement gets under way. 

In a related matter, the new bylaws require names for common driveways, and Snyder said the Planning Board is urging residents of those areas to get together and come up with naming proposals, which can be submitted to the Planning Board. Houses on those roads will also receive new numbers, which will reflect the new road they're on. 

Enforcement of the bylaw will be done by either the police chief, fire chief or building inspector, and Smith said it will start by focusing on areas already identified as problematic, such as large, unnamed common driveways. In practice, Smith said households impacted by the new rules will receive a notice outlining what needs to be done. If the changes aren't implemented in 30 days, a $25 fine may be assessed, with a $50 ticket to follow 30 days later. Smith, who is also on the towns' Historical Society, said these new rules are Pepperell's first-ever street-number regulations, adding this stems from Pepperell growing into a larger community and an increasing number of first responders -- either from neighboring communities or private ambulances -- who may not be familiar with the local roads According to Smith, Pepperell's modern street numbers date back to 1969, when longtime Assessor Trescott Abele used his records and the town's frontage requirements to establish street numbers across much of the town. 

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