Zoning board the center of criticism at selectmen meeting

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.

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12 years ago

Since the role of the ZBA is expressly to deal with projects which don’t conform to the zoning laws, I think it is indeed it’s *job* to be, if not hostile, then at least conservative and resistant in its dealings with developers that come before it. The zoning laws exist for a reason, and projects that don’t conform should be the exception, not the rule. I appreciate a ZBA that’s willing to stand its ground.

Mark Ford
12 years ago

…as someone who’s followed Heavey’s project fairly closely, I think Mr. Stivers is being a gentlemen when he says “a number of the situations are not as described…”

I want tough hurdles for our town, especially for nonconforming projects. I wonder if all developers share this feeling? From my outside perspective, there seem to be several developers who work just fine with the ZBA and the other boards–boards whose job is, in part, to protect the town and have a conservative approach. I agree with Greg, above.

12 years ago

I followed the link to the MWDN article and felt it worthwhile to extract the following several consecutive paragraphs:

“Selectmen Vice Chairman John Rooney said after what he heard, he’d consider dumping the whole ZBA.
“What I’m hearing, I don’t like at all,” he said.
He said he believes the problem is more of a culture issue with the board and that Stivers may just be an easy target.
He suggested inviting the entire ZBA to the board’s meeting next week and conducting an investigation into the individual grievances presented.
If he agrees with those speaking against the board, Rooney said he’d “be inclined to start anew, if you will, with a ZBA that understands the charge from the Board of Selectmen.” ”

How great to be working for a boss who so quickly sides with those who are critical of his subordinates. “After what he heard” he’d dump the whole Board!
I must say that I, for one, object to the lack of a more measured response from our town leader. Why not simply thank those who commented for their feedback and promise to follow up? Better yet, why not be able to provide some personal comments based on his experience in overseeing this group.
I also agree with the other comments above; I’d like it to be difficult to bypass our rules.

Read more: http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/archive/x1125485677/Southboroughs-ZBA-chairman-under-fire#ixzz1OiENri2q

John boiardi
12 years ago

Kudos to the ZBA. They should be tough on developers that are pushing for 40B housing. 40B has proven to be a big scam by developers. It allows them to avoid bylaws and build on marginal land. The law has done nothing to increase so called “affordable housing” Check the records of the towns that fall into the trap. We need business development. If people want apartments let them look at surrounding towns (Framingham, Marlborough). Our high taxes go toward keeping the rural, suburban nature of Southborough. Fill up our schools with the children of apartment dwellers and our real estate taxes will be at the Sudbury/Wayland/Wellesley level without the location. Selectman– keep yor hands off the ZBA!

Lisa Braccio
12 years ago

As a resident that has had the opportunity to see the process and how it works when a Developer went before ZBA with a project next to my home, I am more than appalled for Mr. Stivers. Our Town should be thankful that Mr. Stivers has dedicated so much of his time and life to service in Southboro. While I may not have been thrilled with the decision the ZBA made, I had nothing but huge respect for Mr. Stivers and how he conducted himself, a true gentleman. He took the time to explain to the Public present what was going on and he truly listened to what we had to say. I walked out of the meeting feeling like my voice was heard, which is very rare these days. I would much rather a Board with Leadership that takes the time to get things right than a rush through of approved permits that do not benefit the Town nor follow the letter of the law. Dotting i’s and crossing t’s in this day and age are very important. All I can say in closing is THANK YOU Mr. Stivers for all you have done for Southboro and while I am very sorry for what happened at the meeting rest assured the Developers do not represent the People of Southboro and what we think.

Eyes Open
12 years ago

I continue to be dumbfounded by those who form opinions from simply reading the MWDN. Before launching into unfounded and ridiculous statements, southsider, get the facts. I was there during the ZBA hearing. The selectmen were presented with at least 6 inquisition stories chaired by Mr. Stivers. They ranged from developers to a firefighter who appeared before the ZBA with this wife and was raked over the coals for seeking an addition. His wife left in tears. Another resident of over 50 years was put to hours and hours of criticism when she simply wanted to build a handicap ramp for her mother. The Center for Children, was accused of not pulling their share of contributing revenue and a ZBA board member commented that they should not approve a permit because the property would be given to the Center for Children. Numerous businesses have decided not to come to town because of the way they will be treated by the ZBA. Residents are slammed and non profits are accused of irrelevant suspicions.

Maybe, Southsider, you are comfortable living in a town that condones this type of activity. Maybe you are comfortable with a reputation of unfairness. I am not, nor were any of the selectmen.

I would suggest you get all your facts before you form an opinion.

John Butler
12 years ago

On one hand, as a Town, our economic interest lies in not granting quick process to those seeking to build residential complexes. If it is true that residential developers are reluctant to build here, that’s not bad.
On the other hand I attended just one case before the ZBA this year, that of the Gulbankians. Mr. Stivers was polite to the Gulbankians and seemed to want to do the right thing, but never spoke forcefully against what seemed to me to be a gross injustice perpetrated by the Building Inspector and the ZBA against that family and its business. Sometimes a case calls for brisk moral clarity rather than officiousness and that is why we have citizen boards rather than paid bureaucrats doing this.
In the Gulbankian case a group living in a new residential complex built on land sold to the developer by the Gulbankians wanted, as I saw it, to “clean up the neighborhood” by using a zoning code technicality to threaten the family business of long standing. The Building Inspector and ZBA become their accomplice in this sordid business. The whole process was, and remains, shameful.
If, looking at the larger picture than I have before me, the Board of Selectmen now feel the need to clean house on the ZBA, I’d probably agree with them, because what I saw in this one case was a great wrong.

12 years ago

The way Southborough is set up and the Home-style Town we live in is what so many of us cherish this town. I don’t think that a developer that lives 3.5 hrs away has any right to undermine the way our town wishes to approve or disapprove future development. We have middle and upper class homes that have style and class. I don’t want to see old farm land turned into McMansion neighborhoods just so an outsider can make some money. The ZBA needs to work on its charm but they are here to protect our town.

Matthew Brownell
12 years ago

Ohh, Boo-Hoo-Hoo!!

“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.” (???? !!!!!)

Mr. Heavy’s expenses are microscopic compared to the cost to Southborough residents brought by developers skirting local zoning rules through imbecilic,ill-fitting, and purely Socialist Chapter 40B mandates.

I applaud Mr. Stivers for safeguarding what the vast majority of Southborough residents want and love . . . which is an oasis from the jungle of high-density commercialism.

Helen Hamman
12 years ago

Well, of course the developers are complaining. Mr. Stivers uses an evenhanded approach and actually tries to listen to residents as well as those who want to develop all of our scenic town. Mr Stivers does not allow the developers to ignore existing laws, nor does he allow them to take shortcuts. In addition, to suggest that more (and inexpensive) residential housing would increase the tax base is wrong headed. Our single largest expense is on the schools. These newer developments would result in a lot more school children and the houses would not generate enough tax income to support them.
I am especially unhappy that Selectman Vice Chairman John Rooney has said that he would consider “dumping the whole ZBA”. How can he suggest this after hearing from a very small, very partisan group? As a resident, I am grateful that we have a watchdog to protect us from indiscriminate development. Mr. Stivers is very dedicated and attends all town meetings and state workshops to learn more about state laws and regulations.
In conclusion, I would like to register my whole hearted support for Mr. Stivers. I will be unable to attend the meeting next week, as I will be out of town. However, please understand that Mr. Stivers and the ZBA as it is now constituted, has my husband’s and my full support.

Robert Epstein
12 years ago

I have lived in town for 9 years, i have been to six ZBA meetings as an obsrever, I have seen Mr. Stivers and a few of the other members in action, it is apauling the way some of the members treat local residences at these meetings, Mr. Stivers does nothing to control the board, he lets a few of the memebrs rant and rave about items that have noting to do with the issues at hand. I have read that the town is being sued by one of the aplicants for things Mr. Stivers made them do that they did not have to, can we not see the wrting on the wall, or are we going to wait until it costs the town hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. These memebrs are apointed by the Selectman, they should be there to represent the town, not thier own agenda’s. It’s time for a change!! if the Selectman want it to be business as usual then re apoint Mr. Stivers, and be prepared for the town to pay the consquences, otherwise lets get some new members who treat applicants with respect! and who have towns BEST interest at hand.

bob a
12 years ago

developers – bananas – build anything anywhere

zba- allow variances for hardships

Keep up the good work Mr. Stivers

Don’t be bullied by developers or fellow board members!

Karen Muggeridge
12 years ago

i want to make a correction for a comment I made a last nights BoS meeting. when referring to the majority of people at the second hearing of the dual tax rate BoS meeting, while there where developers there, the majority of people who were in attendance, and who spoke were business owners in town. I apologize for misspeaking.

I also may have given the wrong impression in that I do not support development, commercial or residential, which is also not the case. They each obviously have different impacts on our tax base, making one more fiscally beneficial to the town. I do however, support having each, while keeping within the towns zoning bylaws, protecting natural resources, and doing the best to maintain the character of Southborough.

When hearing of the individuals interested in promoting business and economic development in Southborough, I spoke with one of our elected officials and was glad to hear that they had the towns support.

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