ZBA: Refining rules on submittal process; encouraging compromises on athletic field

by beth on October 29, 2015

The Zoning Board of Appeals met last night. One of the big items on their agenda was an appeal of a recent Planning Board decision. Another was discussion of a board policy that has caused confusion.

ZBA to Clarify/Revise Submittal Policy

Chair Leo Bartolini addressed confusion over a ZBA policy for submitting materials 10 days prior to a hearing. He said that the policy had recently been discussed when they accepted a neighbor’s letter on Park Central one day past the deadline.

This summer, the ZBA voted to create new rules for submittals by other Town Boards, with a deadline 3 business days prior to the hearing. That followed a complaint by the Planning Board over an ignored last-minute submission.

The Chair is now seeking to clarify submittal rules for the public. Bartolini stated the 10 day deadline only applies to applicants. He explained that neighbors can attend the meeting that night and submit their opinions.

Member Thomas Bhisitkul disagreed. He worried about allowing organized abutters with lawyers to “sandbag” a developer. Bartolini then qualified that they originally, clearly stated that anyone with counsel needed to submit in advance. Bhistikul posed that neighbors might submit a letter written by an attorney but signed by them.

Members discussed differentiating submitting an opinion from submitting factual information. Bartolini ended the discussion by announcing that he would draft a revised policy to be reviewed at a future meeting.

Appeal hearing on Youth Soccer’s turf field continued

Abutters to Fay Athletic Field asked for the ZBA to reverse a site plan to allow the building of a turf field for Southborough Youth Soccer on the site. Town Counsel explained that the board’s decision should be based on whether or not the Planning Board’s approval fell within zoning rights for the property. He informed members that they could uphold the decision, uphold with new conditions, or reverse it. 

Initial discussions focused on the merits of an appeal. An attorney for the abutters made several legal arguments claiming that the Planning Board’s decision was invalid. A chief claim was that the applicant was SYS, an organization with no standing in front of the board. Later, counsel for Fay School and SYS countered that league did have legal standing and that school was also involved.

Abutters’ representative also argued against SYS claim at Planning Board hearings that field use wouldn’t increase. That claim was based on the “net zero” effect of adding one field but eliminating use of another. The attorney pointed out that turf fields don’t require rest and are available for continual use. He believed that meant it would get much more use.

Since that is SYS’ reason for pursuing a turf field, their attorney conceded that point.

As the hearing progressed, conversation fixated on modifications to the site plan. Encouraging the discussion was Fay/SYS attorney. He told the board that the school wanted to be good neighbors and was willing to agree to some of the abutters requests and compromise on others.

One major concession was limiting field use to children (up to the age of 18.) The rental of the field to an adult male league had been one of the neighbors chief complaints at Planning Board hearings. At the time, SYS vehemently defended the right to continue that practice.

With compromises being discussed, Bartolini recommended that the parties get together to see if they could work out their issues and make a joint recommendation to the ZBA. With all in agreement, the hearing was continued to December 2nd.

Editor’s Note: In watching the hearing, I realized I made an error in prior coverage of the Planning Board’s site plan approval. I wrote that Fay School had agreed to building an additional bathroom facility on site.

The school only agreed to a fourth set of port-a-potties and moving one to an area closer to the baseball diamond dugout. (It had been posed that players in the dugout looking for quick relief were one of the groups who trespassing on neighbors’ properties to pee.)

Abutters had requested the construction of permanent bathroom facilities instead of port-a-potties. Last night, their attorney made it clear that they have no intention of investing in that.

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