Downtown zoning revamp postponed

by beth on January 31, 2020

The Economic Development Committee won’t be bringing a zoning Article to Town Meeting voters in March. The EDC is pulling the Article to prepare for a future meeting, yet to be announced. Although there were process issues for getting the Article onto the Warrant, the main cause of delay cited was that the Article wasn’t ready for primetime.

The EDC has decided to continue work to draft a bylaw change better suited to meet its goals. (And, I assume, more likely to get the support needed to get 2/3 of voters to pass it.) The EDC wrote that it’s goal is for the bylay is one:

that will promote mixed use development of a scale that is in keeping with the small-town nature of our bucolic New England community and in line with the recommendations of the current Master Plan. . .

and:

which will provide the flexibility and certainty necessary to allow small-scale development and revitalization in our Downtown Business Village District.

At last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting, two different issues were raised by officials that previewed the postponement might be coming.

BOS Chair Brian Shea stated that there were procedural problems according to counsel. The EDC didn’t have authority to submit the zoning Article to Planning for a public hearing. Shea was concerned there might not be time before the Warrant was closed to follow required process. That same night, Advisory Chair Kathy Cook said she believed the EDC wouldn’t be able to make its case clear to the public in time for Town Meeting. She advocated for postponing to the fall.

On Monday, the issues were confirmed at the Planning Board’s scheduled hearing on the Article.

Chair Don Morris told the public that he had been instructed by special counsel that he needed to open the hearing, “note the defect”, then close the hearing. Attorney Jay Talerman opined that the EDC lacked standing on zoning. To initiate a formal review of the draft bylaw, the EDC could have had selectmen transmit the Article to the Planning Board. 

Morris also read EDC’s letter to selectmen. Chair Thomas Collins confirmed the committee wouldn’ t push to find a way to get on the Warrant. Instead, they would take time to continue working on the bylaw. Whether the Article would be addressed at a special Town Meeting later this year, or tabled to ATM 2021 wasn’t specified. 

Here is the EDC’s full letter, which also refers to efforts to comply with procedure going forward: 

The members of the Economic Development Committee are writing to request that the Warrant Article seeking approval at Town Meeting – to change the zoning in the Downtown Village Business District – be withdrawn for consideration at the March 2020 Town Meeting.

First and foremost, the EDC is concerned that the proposed zoning amendment requires additional work before being submitted for public discussion. In addition, procedural concerns have been raised by the recent letter addressed to Selectperson Lisa Braccio by Town Counsel which EDC seeks to address prior to moving forward. The EDC has learned a great deal throughout this process and will require additional time to produce a proposal that will meet the objectives for which it is intended. Namely, to provide a zoning bylaw that will promote mixed use development of a scale that is in keeping with the small-town nature of our bucolic New England community and in line with the recommendations of the current Master Plan.

The EDC intends to act fully within the confines of all legal and procedural requirements, and will ensure that its efforts going forward include the proper timing and procedures in its collaboration with the Planning Board to amend the zoning bylaw for the Downtown Village Business District. The EDC will take additional time to consult with planning consulting resources, both public and private, as well as to secure technical assistance from legal experts fluent in the language of zoning, to produce a proposed amendment for review.

The EDC continues to appreciate the Board of Selectmen’s attention and support in this matter and we look forward to continuing to work with you toward a zoning bylaw which will provide the flexibility and certainty necessary to allow small-scale development and revitalization in our Downtown Business Village District. We will continue to work with residents and the appropriate boards and committees toward this goal.

It’s worth noting that the Planning Board is also able to draft zoning bylaws. The EDC had unsuccessfully sought for Planning to take on the zoning Article with help from the EDC. In the end, Morris said that if the EDC (or anyone) drafted a zoning bylaw and brought it to them, they would hold public hearings for it.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Casual Observer January 31, 2020 at 8:30 PM

Well….this seems to gloss over some stuff. For example did the EDC really withdraw its article or were there legal problems with it so it couldn’t proceed? The article calls that “process issues” and that seems to minimize the EDC’s shortcomings in adhering to law and operating transparently. This article also fails to point out that the EDC very likely broke open meting law! Something isn’t right.

Reply

2 Tom February 1, 2020 at 8:23 AM

You gotta love this. The ultimate irony is this same EDC (which has been under the recent chairmanship of two lawyers, Dave Mccay and Julie Connolly) suddenly getting religion and wanting to do things legally (in conformance with the law and proper process), whereas it clearly was not in this ram-it push. This EDC usurps the word “bucolic” from this blog in describing the community in its future (not current) attention to process and withdraws / reboots the next day with this descriptive term in its “got religion” letter. Like this entire ordeal and arrogant push did not happen. Remember this, taxpayers, at the voting booth. Remember this, when this disrespectful, scofflaw group serves up your taxpayer saddle to increase the profits and return on investment for their developer cronies. This village should not be hijacked by developer interests and those who stand to profit via fee based services. It is too small and this initiative will ruin downtown. Taxpayers should be on high alert for anyone facilitating or providing “inside track” against state law and conflicts of interest. Mr. Healey and BOS, the EDC special municipal employee status should be withdrawn immediately, especially in light of this stunning reboot and admission of not following proper process. Restore public trust and the dignity of the office of the BOS by doing the right thing. Thank you.

Reply

3 Tom February 1, 2020 at 8:25 AM

Beth, can you please provide a link to the actual letter. Thank you.

Reply

4 beth February 2, 2020 at 11:35 AM

Here is a pdf.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: