Zoning board chairman responds to criticism over Gulbankians decision

Above: The owners of Gulbankian Farm have appealed a decision by the town’s zoning board (file photo)

The recent decision by a Worcester court to deny an appeal by the owners of Gulbankian Farms, has prompted quite a few of you to speak out in support of the Gulbankian family here on the blog. The Gulbankians had appealed a decision last year by the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals that required them to make improvements to their Mt. Vickery Road property in order to continue to operate multiple businesses on the lot.

In comments on the blog, many of you have decried the zoning board’s treatment of the family, who have operated their garden center in Southborough since 1965. “It is a moral abomination that this should happen to this family,” wrote reader John Butler.

On Friday, ZBA chairman Matt Hurley took to the blog to address the criticism and set the record straight.

In a comment on the blog, Hurley said while he expected not everyone would be happy with the board’s decision, he is surprised at the vitriol directed at the board and its members.

“By all means, people should voice their opinions, but comparing the volunteer members of the ZBA to mindless East German bureaucrats pursuing a moral abomination goes way too far and is the kind of personal attack that discourages people from getting involved in our Town government,” he wrote.

Hurley said the ZBA’s decision was intended to balance the needs of the Gulbankian family with those of its abutters. He noted the board approved a use variance for the family – a form of zoning relief that he says is very difficult to obtain – to allow the family to continue operating their existing businesses on the property, while conditions attached the variance were designed to satisfy the concerns of various abutters.

“The ZBA has nothing against the Gulbankians,” Hurley wrote. “Our goal all along has been to apply the law in this complex matter in an even-handed way that’s fair to all parties and minimizes the risk of embroiling the Town in expensive and time-consuming litigation.”

Hurley said the Gulbankians have already complied with 13 of the 15 conditions applied, but object to the remaining two: that they pave a portion of their lot, and that they install a stormwater drainage and filtration system. The family says the improvements may cost them $250K, but Hurley says those numbers seem “an extremely high estimate given what (the board has) seen in other similar situations.”

You can read Hurley’s comment in full here. The Gulbankians have appealed the Worcester court’s decision, so Hurley said he would not make any further public comments on the case since litigation is pending.

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Chris Robbins
11 years ago

I am very disappointed that anyone would use inappropriate language to describe dedicated leaders in our community by accusing them of behaving like “East German Bureaucrats.”
We could not have a better ZBA chairman than Matt Hurley who is serving us very well. We must ensure that the high standards of civility are always kept.
Apologies and thank yous are due these valued servants of our town.

In the instructions for using the blog, it mentions that people have to be neighborly in their comments. There is nothing neighborly about this kind of commentary. These destructive personal attacks will only serve to discourage anyone from serving on our committees and to distract us from the issues at hand in moving this town forward. It will regretfully discourage readership of mysouthborough.com that provides highly valued community news.


Chris Robbins

David McIntire
11 years ago

I happened to be at the final ZBA hearing for the Gulbankians’ Special Permit and witnessed the threats and intimidation the Gulbankians were subjected to by the Board. Near the end of the hearing the Board decided to impose time limits on the completion of the site work. Mr. Gulbankian was pleading with the Board to please give him more time. On more than one occasion a Board member would lean over the table with his arm fully extended, shaking his finger at Mr. Gulbankian and loudly stating to Mr. Gulbankian that if he didn’t comply with the time limits imposed for the site work he work have a fine imposed every day the machine shop was operated. I felt Mr. Gulbankian’s request for more time to be reasonable and the Board may have the right to deny his request but it was the manner in which they communicated with Mr. Gulbankian that I found appalling.
I went to see the Gulbankians the next day. I have known them since the mid 1990’s when John and Mike rebuilt an engine for me. While I was talking to John he mentioned his sign. I asked him if he had a permit for the sign and he said that he did. I told him only a lawful business can be granted a sign permit and I decided to look it up for him.
First I found the Southborough Zoning Regulation – SPECIAL PERMITS FOR SIGNS – §174-11.E.2. “…that a Special Permit may be granted for a sign at a legal nonconforming use.” Then I went on the Worcester Registry of Deeds website and found the Special Permit for their sign, Bk30559 Pg297. This permit was granted in 2003 and grants the Gulbankians the multiple uses on their property, specifically, J & M Machine, along with the sign.
The building inspector put this whole process in motion by claiming that he could not locate any permit granting the use for J & M Machine. It took me less than 5 minute to find the permit online. In 2003 J & M Machine did the same business as it does today and did all though the 1990’s which is machining parts.
The Gulbankians thought they only had a sign permit and had the unfortunate luck of retaining a very poor attorney who never bothered to properly research the property. The ZBA had already made a final decision so it was too late for this permit to be brought to their attention.
I feel the Town is wasting funds pursuing any action against the Gulbankians as in the end when the building inspector goes to court to have a find imposed for the illegal use of J & M Machine the Gulbankians can now readily show that the use is allowed.
I plead to the Selectmen to somehow find a method to put a speedy end to this matter; saving the Town funds which could be put to better use and allowing the Gulbankians the peace they deserve.

11 years ago

Thank you David McIntire for your comments. Very interesting. It sounds like the ZBA has not done there home work for a long time.

I also have no simpothy for MR. Hurley. I to am on a volunteer board with the town of Southborough and have rocks thrown at me. It’s part of the job. Get used to it.

Al Hamilton
11 years ago


You clearly believe an injustice has happened, legal or not. I agree. Unfortunately the legal ship has sailed and the judgements have been rendered. The BOS may not be able to settle this as it is now before the courts even if they throw in the towel others (neighbors) could take up the appeal.

However, there is a crude but practical alternative. Town Meeting’s control over spending is very broad. It has the power to compel tax revenue from residents and has broad authority over how those funds are spent. If you can get 200 signatures you could propose an article to the effect that “no public funds, facilities or employees shall be expended, used or engaged related to (insert description here)”. That would permit the neighbors to pursue the matter privately but would tie the hands of town officials. The could not levy a fine or do an inspection or spend money on town counsel related to this matter.

You can expect push back from Town Counsel but there would be a clear conflict of interest as he profits from this activity. It would require perserverance and standing up to the Town Executives.

If you want to resolve this injustice it will require action not words. It will be a dog fight.

just curious
11 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Mr. Hamilton,

You are way off the mark with this statement “You can expect push back from Town Counsel but there would be a clear conflict of interest as he profits from this activity.”

Town Counsel is paid by the town to provide legal advice. Whether you agree with his advice or disagree with it, that is the service he provides to the town. He is supposed to get paid for it. How in the world can you claim he has a conflict of interest?

If a Southborough police officer wrote you a ticket and you expressed your desire to appeal it, would the officer have a conflict of interest since the officer will receive extra pay to attend your appeal hearing?

Your comment is just plain wrong. Entertaining as always, but wrong. And no, town counsel is not responsible for the solar array on Rt 85. And no, that solar array is not an extension of Area 51. And no, there is no conspiracy afoot here.
Sometimes things are just what they appear to be.

Sometimes these arguments just drift off from the common sense realm and into, well, kind of nutty professor stuff. Entertaining, but a distraction from what should be our common goal of seeking resolution to this mess.

As an aside, here are the names of the members of the ZBA, as listed on the town web site:
Matthew C. Hurley 30-Jun-15 Chair
Regina P. McAuliffe 30-Jun-12
Leo F. Bartolini, Jr. 30-Jun-13
Edward D. Estella 30-Jun-14
Thomas Bhistkul 30-Jun-16

Tara A. Bayko 30-Jun-12 Alternate Member
David J. Eagle 30-Jun-12 Alternate Member

Perhaps folks who oppose the ZBA decision should contact the ZBA members and ask for an expliination of their vote. If you are not satisfied with their response, perhaps you should contact the BOS and ask them not to re-appoint that member.

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  just curious


To be clear I am not suggesting that Town Counsel would behave inappropriately merely that he has a financial interest in the outcome. Since this issue is not likely to go away, it represents an opportunity for him to continue charging us for his services, as he should if we ask him to take action. If Town Meeting were to prohibit spending on this matter it would have an impact on his income.

If a proposal threatens your income or mine it is likely to color our opinion of that matter, it is human nature and lawyers are human. Hence, my comment on the possibility of push back.

Indeed Town By Law (little used and regularly ignored like the rest of our by laws) requires a speaker (any speaker) who has a financial interest in a matter before town meeting to declare it:

Section 41-14

“Any person who is employed in behalf of a person having an interest in any matter under consideration at any Town Meeting shall, immediately upon being recognized by the Moderator, state that he is so employed and shall also state the name and address of his or her employer. Any person who is employed in behalf of a person having an interest in any matter under consideration at any Town Meeting shall, immediately upon being recognized by the Moderator, state that he is so employed and shall also state the name and address of his or her employer.”

In our democracy Legislatures maintain the power of the purse. It is not a pretty tool but it is very very effective.

Tim Martel
11 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Other options:

1. The Planning Board has the new zoning bylaw proposal that they intend to take to Town Meeting in October. The relevant lot be changed from residential to something more permissive to their business.

2. The Zoning Board can edit the existing permit, or issue a new one if necessary, to allow all automobile engines to be worked upon in the machine shop. That would obviate the court case. They can also reverse/reduce the expensive requirements for paving, etc. Speaking of which, was there an environmental report that showed the need for such “improvements”? Or was it just a high-handed sentence handed down from the board/inspector?

3. The BOS can refuse (or be forced to refuse) to fund the legal defense. The private citizens can pay out of pocket, but will they be willing to spend the money? Are they that coordinated? Many people are willing to sign a petition, but their support dwindles when they need to reach for their wallet.

Town Meeting can act via options 1 and 3. Ultimately, its in the hands of town voters if they are not satisfied with the actions of their elected officials, or those of the appointed officials within said committee’s purview.

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  Tim Martel


I agree that these are options. I think #1 will be hard, I believe that Zoning changes required 2/3 majorities.

David McIntire
11 years ago

The neighbors should realize that in the end if the Gulbankians decide not to use the permit there is no action that can be enforced upon the Gulbankians as all of the uses on their property are already permitted and legal.

11 years ago

I don’t think contacting the ZBA members directly will do much good. They have made there decision and unfortunetly I believe with the issue being in court now, that it would be a mute point for them to reverse it. I have abosolutle no simpothey for the ZBA members and the fact they are getting thrown under the bus (pun intended) calling them at there homes is boarder line harrassment.

I think we need to seek other directions and Mr. Hamilton seems to have the only idea at this point. What we need now is a crusader for the Gulbankian’s. I am pretty busy, anyone have a little extra time to collect the signatures? I will drive to some specified location and sign.

11 years ago

When someone who has lived in the town and operated a successful business for as many years as Mike Gulbankian is humiliated and made to feel any less than he should, something is wrong with the politics and operation of our Town boards. It appears that in the same breathe, those that are trying to run him out of his endeavors, did not do their homework – permits that were obviously overlooked, paperwork that should have been followed up – that becomes Mike’s problem?
He has been a reputable businessman in this Town. For anyone of else to decide that he doesn’t meet the criteria to operate his business seems ludicrous.

Frank Crowell
11 years ago

I far as I am concerned there is a common thread developing in these stories of the past few years in this town and it probably goes beyond that. If you take “Uno Gate”, how Mr Rooney was treated at the December School Committee meeting and how the ZBA treated Mr Gulbankian, the theme is “we know what we are doing, do not question how we do it or what we did.” If I were to call it something, it would be worse then East German Bureaucrats and not printable.

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