Southborough’s Zoning Board of Appeals has been the focus of some criticism in the past year. The complaints came to a head last night as the Board of Selectmen considered the reappointment of ZBA Chairman Sam Stivers to another 5-year term.
A handful of developers and residents spoke out against Stivers’ reappointment, blaming him for what one developer called “an air of disdain” the board projects toward developers who come before it.
The ZBA is responsible for issuing special permits and variances for both residential and commercial projects that don’t conform to the town’s zoning code. In the past year they’ve acted on projects ranging from 40B affordable housing developments, to sorting out the multiple-use issue at Gulbankian Farms, to complaints from neighbors about the new Pizza 19 restaurant on Framingham Road.
Not all of those who have come before the board recently have left happy. Natick developer Robert Heavey, who’s proposed 40B project off Oak Hill Road was approved by the ZBA last fall, is one such applicant.
Heavey, who told selectmen he drove 3-1/2 hours to attend last night’s meeting, said the three years it took the board to review and ultimately rule on his project cost him “a fortune.” Heavey has appealed the board’s decision to the state saying the restrictions the ZBA placed on the development will keep it from being profitable.
“The reputation Southborough has because of the ZBA is it’s a hostile town to developers,” Heavey said.
Southborough resident Bill Pezzoni, an attorney who has represented developers for 30 years, said many don’t want to do projects in Southborough if they know they have to come before the ZBA out of concern for the time and expense involved. He urged selectmen to consider a change.
“As far as the ZBA is concerned, you have the opportunity to make some changes,” Pezzoni said. “You need to change the makeup of the board.”
Selectman John Rooney said while Stivers’ was the “lightning rod” for criticism, the problem could very well extend further. Rooney said he wanted to talk to all five members of the ZBA to go over the incidents raised last night in detail before determining what changes should be made to the board.
“I am greatly, greatly troubled,” Rooney said about the charges levied against the ZBA last night.
Stivers, who attended last night’s meeting, said he would defer responding to the complaints until a larger discussion could be scheduled with all the ZBA members present.
“A number of these situations are not exactly as described here,” he said.
The selectmen are expected to take up the discussion again at an upcoming meeting. They have until June 30 to vote on Stivers’ reappointment.
You can read another account of last night’s meeting in the Metrowest Daily News.