Selectmen decide not to reappoint zoning board chairman

While praising his dedication and commitment, selectmen last night voted not to reappoint Chairman Sam Stivers to the Zoning Board of Appeals. It was a move they said was intended to introduce new blood and help correct perception problems that have plagued the board.

Stivers, who had served on the ZBA for seven years, came under fire recently from developers and residents who accused the board of having “an air of disdain” toward development in town.

Stivers last night again defended his record saying the allegations made against him were not based in fact, but he did acknowledge “perception issues” that he said were hard to prove or disprove.

“Everyone agrees that there is a perception that conducting business before this ZBA can be unfair, extended, arduous,” Selectman John Rooney said. “The perception of unfairness becomes the reality.”

Selectman Bill Boland said it was his experience with the board over the past five years more than the criticism he heard the past three weeks that prompted his vote not to reappoint Stivers. Boland said the Board of Selectmen met with the ZBA repeatedly over the past few years to discuss issues in the way the board operates and conflicts between its members.

“We shouldn’t have to do that,” Boland said. “Maybe it’s time to reinvigorate the board.”

Selectmen voted unanimously not to reappoint Stivers to a 5-year term on the zoning board, instead voting to appoint Southborough commercial real estate attorney and Pine Hill Road resident Thomas Bhistkul.

Rooney proposed appointing Stivers to a 1-year term as an alternate on the board, a position Stivers said he would accept. Boland originally supported appointing Stivers as an alternate, but changed his mind to side with Selectman Dan Kolenda, who said he wanted to give newcomers a chance to serve on the the board.

Selectmen voted 2-1 not to appoint Stivers to the alternate position, and then voted to appoint David Eagle, part owner of Southborough-based Eagle Leasing Company, as an alternate instead. A second 1-year alternate spot went to Sears Road resident Tara Bayko who has served on a number of town committees.

Several residents showed up at last night’s meeting to speak in support of Stivers’ reappointment. Former Selectman Roger Challen criticized what he called a “witch hunt.” Resident Frederica Gillespie said Stivers had become a scapegoat. Both criticized the reappointment process undertaken by selectmen.

“I’m concerned with the process that has gone on here,” Gillespie said. “This public raking over the coals over old complaints.”

Former ZBA alternate Chris Robbins objected to Challen’s “witch hunt” characterization saying the issue was one of respect. Robbins said he has witnessed board members yelling at applicants, arguing between each other, and asking questions that were beyond the prevue of the board.

“There is a lack of customer service here that doesn’t compare to the standard set in any of the other towns like Northborough,” Robbins said.

Selectmen put the remaining four ZBA members on notice, saying a similar discussion might happen when their terms are up for renewal.

“This is more than just an issue about Mr. Stivers,” Rooney said. “If another ZBA member was up for reappointment, I’m pretty sure I would make the same decision.”

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