Planning Board agrees to delay town vote on zoning changes

Above: The Planning Board attending the Board of Selectmen meeting last week. From left to right: Andrew Mills, Kathleen Bartolini, Paul Cimino, Dana Cunningham, Donald Morris, and Town Planner Eric Denoncourt

For the past four years, volunteers have worked steadfastly on a wide-reaching update to the town’s zoning code. The Planning Board had hoped to bring the changes before voters at a Special Town Meeting this fall, but selectmen last week persuaded them to wait a few more months.

Selectmen made the request to delay over concerns the public would not have enough time to review the proposed zoning changes if a vote were to take place in the fall. They also said the extra time was needed to get other town committees – in particular the Advisory Committee – on board with the changes.

The Advisory Committee has been critical of the zoning code review process since it began earlier this summer, with members repeatedly asking the Planning Board for additional documentation to help them – and the public – understand the changes.

In a vote last month the Advisory Committee formally requested from the Planning Board a build-out analysis and a “red-line” document that would spell out the changes between the old and new code. They also asked selectmen to delay scheduling a Special Town Meeting for at least four months after the documentation was provided so they had sufficient time to review it.

Given the Advisory Committee’s charter to make recommendations to Town Meeting about the various articles that come before it, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen John Rooney said taking the zoning changes to Town Meeting without the support of the Advisory Committee could set it up for failure.

“I’m trying to be practical,” Rooney said in arguing for a delay. Changes to town bylaw, including the town’s zoning code, require a two-third majority of Town Meeting voters to pass.

Selectmen suggested targeting January or February for a Special Town Meeting, and Morris said the Planning Board could live with that timeline. He said a red-line document should be available sometime this week, and more public hearings would be scheduled.

Both boards agreed that given its large scope, the zoning changes should be handled at a dedicated Special Town Meeting instead of at the Annual Town Meeting in April.

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