MWDN: Ex-ZBA chief in Southborough critical of proposed zoning changes

If things go according to plan, voters at a special town meeting in June will consider an overhaul of the town’s zoning code. It’s a rewrite that has been in the works for years, but some are concerned it’s not ready for prime time.

The Open Space Preservation Commission has voiced its opposition to new regulations they say skew too heavily in the favor of developers, and the Metrowest Daily News reports today that Sam Stivers, former chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, has also written a letter criticizing the new code.

From the Metrowest Daily News:

Specifically, (Stivers) said that the new bylaws would make it so that the bulk of special permits would be issued by the Planning Board and not the ZBA, “removing an important level of oversight to development activities.

“It also appears that some amount of permitting would be shifted from the Conservation Commission to the Planning Board,” Stivers wrote.

Stivers, echoing a concern raised last week by the Open Space Preservation Commission, said the new language also gives the Planning Board too much discretion “to waive a variety of requirements as they deem it appropriate.”

He also agreed with the position of the OSRC – which opposes the bylaw – writing that the bylaw “provides less protection for open space” than currently exists.

Those are some of Stiver’s concerns, but there are more. You can read all about them in this article by the MWDN.

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11 years ago

We need a special Town Meeting for this? At what cost? If it’s still controversial, I suggest working towards consensus and delay til next regularly scheduled TM. How embarassing for all involved if we go to the bother of a Special TM and then the proposal fails.

Fred A.
11 years ago
Reply to  southsider

Reading Stivers manifesto, it sounds like someone hurling some sour grapes. Sure there maybe some minor spelling mistakes in the document that needs to be touched up, but to shut the process off at the 11th hour seems ridiculous. He sat on the ZAC and all his concerns were addressed during their 50+ meetings. The overwhelming majority voted against his restrictive and obsolete ideals. Why we feel that we still need to give him a forum to rehash issues that were shot down months ago upsets me. He’s a good example how NOT to run a company. By bogging down the process, you lose sight to the outstanding benefits of passing this much needed upgrade to the Zoning bylaws. Let’s get this thing passed and I promise the sky will not fall!

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  Fred A.

The promises of an autonomous poster have a certain value that we can all understand.

Fred A. Exactly what are the benefits? Will my taxes go up or down? Will we have more or less people in town if we pass this?

Just Curious
11 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton


Fred A.’s post deserves a bit more reflection than dismissing it due to his choice to cloak his identity. Anonimity aside, Mr. Stivers’s case is rather unusual given that his peers on the ZBA rejested his opinions and the BOS chose not to re-appoint him. Rejection of a reappointment is almost unique in this town.

That being said, Mr. Stivers certainly has the right to bring up any concerns at town meeting. From my observation, he seems a bit strident in his views and dismissive of others. I just hope we don’t run into the same kind of situation as at last year’s town meeting with the town manager committee.

Also, for what it is worth, I plan to vote against the zoning proposal because it will change the look and character of this town, in my humble and anonymous opinion.

Also – thank you Al, for the work you have done on the new town manager committee.

Mark Ford
11 years ago
Reply to  Fred A.

Fred, I for one find Mr. Stivers’ analysis in general to be well reasoned, well intentioned, and devoid of “insider” politics. His is an important voice, and his opinion should, in my opinion, be carefully considered. I started tuning out your comments within three words when you characterized Mr. Stiver’s views as a “manifesto.” Who’s hurling sour grapes?

Al, you ask great questions, as usual–but I also think there are other questions that should be raised…what is the worst-case scenario for development if this passes? What about the relaxed development rules in the Business Village Districts?

Lowering taxes–or really, right now, lowering the rate of increase in taxes–is important to Southborough, but so is maintaining our rural character. The proposed new zoning code needs to straddle this line carefully…will it do this?

I don’t like ceding power away from any of our committees. Is it true that under the new proposal, the bulk of Special Permits would be issued by the Planning Board and not by the ZBA? If so, why?

Tim Martel
11 years ago
Reply to  Fred A.

“Fred A” – Mr Stivers’ arguments are valid and sound, and to attempt to counter them with a smear campaign and an empty promise is ineffective (at best).

There are some good ideas in this proposed bylaw, but the “Open Space” provision is not one of them. Count me amongst those who will vote against the currently drafted version.

Let me add that I think “Southsider” has the right of it. Given that this warrant article will require a 2/3 majority to pass, and that it is actively opposed, it doesn’t make sense to send it to an expensive Special Town Meeting.

Pat Q.
11 years ago
Reply to  Fred A.

Fred A.

For those of us who did not attend the 50+ meetings (and thank you yo those who did):

1. If Mr. Stivers’ concerns were already addressed at the 50+ meetings, could you please perhaps reiterate for us just how his concerns were addressed? Specifically the ones I brought up in my post on 2/22 which are directly taken from the Metrowest Daily News.

2. You mention “the outstanding benefits of passing this much needed upgrade to the zoning bylaws”. Could you please name some of those outstanding benefits? I would really like to be better informed if we are going to be asked to vote at a special town meeting. So far I have only heard Mr. Stivers concerns as well as mention of concerns by the Conservation commission.

I have lived in this town for over 15 years and would like to remain here as my children finish college, get married and have my grandchildren. I don’t want the rug to be pulled out from under us if we have to watch the landscape change before our eyes as a result of these changes.

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  southsider


I believe that the out of pocket costs of a special town meeting is on the order of $5000 to $10,000. Most of that would be in overtime for the police officer and other public workers that are present, and printing costs.

This seems like a modest sum to pay to keep our open town meeting form of government operating.

I do not think it is a good idea to bundle a zoning rewrite in with the annual town meeting. Zoning is a big deal, one of the biggest and most extensive decisions that a community makes. It effects all of us and the values of our properties. It is likely to be contentious and take a lot of time to hash out.

It would not be unusual for it to fail on the first go around.

John Butler
11 years ago

I agree with Mark Ford’s opening. I would add that personal attacks by anonymous posters are really unfair, particularly when directed against those who volunteer to serve the Town and who speak or write here in public under their own name.

Although I vehemently disagreed here with the ZBA about some public issues, I greatly respect Sam’s willingness to serve and his knowledge about the issues. As voters, we have a very complex proposal coming up with this zoning re-write to consider. We must stay focused on the substance of the issues. Unless a person has a conflict of interest, we should not be diverted by personal information or attacks.

SB Resident
11 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

I also agree with Mark F’s opening, but I would add that thinking that your opinion is worth more than others by attaching your name to it really unfair. I do value Fred’s post and think it is very worthwhile to consider Mr. Stiver’s position when considering his opinion, this is the exact reason you prefer non-anonymity right? and I think the point is that he does have a conflict of interest here! and maybe Fred does too, and maybe you do too. Name or no name, I don’t know, but that doesn’t make Fred’s points any less valid. Not to mention that nothing he said was much of a personal attack. Lastly, hinting that the right to free speech should be stifled when directed at people who serve the public is deeply concerning.

Speaking of conflicts of interest, it concerns me that the name Bartolini shows up as being a member on the planning board. I don’t know any Bartolini’s personally or if there is any relation here (too small of a town for there not to be right?), but I know Bartolini’s are developers in this town and having Bartolini’s aiding in creating the zoning rules? now that seems like a conflict of interest.

Just Curious
11 years ago
Reply to  SB Resident

SB Resident –

I do not agree with your concern that the name Bartolini would indicate a conflict of interest. Without supporting information, it smacks of a cheap shot.

We live in a fairly small town that has many members of extended families who have served this town over the years. The names Mauro, Phaneuf, Mattioli, and Falconi come to mind. (There are so many more, but my memory fails me.) Just because someone has one of these surnames doesn’t indicate a conflict of interest. If you are concerned, why don’t you attend one of the meetings of the planning board and ask that question directly? Or send an email?

For the record, I am not a Bartolini or any of the other names I mentioned nor do I know any of them personally.

Concerning your statement “Lastly, hinting that the right to free speech should be stifled when directed at people who serve the public is deeply concerning.” There’s certainly a difference between free speech and personal attacks, but I didn’t read anything is this thread that struck me as a personal attack.

There’s also a huge difference between a personal attack and a criticism and personal attacks, whether from anonymous or named sources are not allowed by Susan.

Finally, I do find it quite ironic and hypocritical (this is a criticism not a personal attack :) ) to read other posters whining about anonymous “personal attacks” on people who volunteer town for the benefit of the town. I wonder if they find it any different than comments they make with real names, are perceived as personal attacks on school committee members and others.

I guess the point is attacks, whether intended as personal or not, belong elsewhere. Isn’t there some old saying along the lines of : “If you wouldn’t say it in front of your mother, don’t say it? (I need to keep reminding myself of this from time to time.)

Pat Q.
11 years ago

Back on 2/20, Al posed the question: “Fred A. Exactly what are the benefits? Will my taxes go up or down? Will we have more or less people in town if we pass this?”

I still haven’t seen a response to this very basic question.

I think Mr. Stivers’ concerns are much more than just “minor spelling mistakes”, in fact he goes into some detail about what his concerns are:
– bulk of special permits issued by Planning Board and not ZBA
– less oversight to development activities
– amount of permitting shifted from Conservation Commission to PB
– the OPCC (Open Space Conservation Commission) has voiced concerns with stormwater and wetlands language as well as less protection for open space
– proposal allows far too much development without a special permit

The small remarks he makes about spelling errors etc. are an afterthought and not the crux of his argument, Mr. Fred A. It’s a bit insulting to residents to dwindle down his argument to that.

It seems the cost of a special town meeting is a good investment if it means this proposal will lead to giving up control of what is built in this town, where it is built and how it is built.

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  Pat Q.


I agree. Most of us moved here or have lived here a long time under the existing zoning reg’s and are pretty satisfied with our community. Those that want to make substantial changes, and these appear to be substantial need to make the case as to why the new regs are better than the system we have.

My understanding is that there are some small sections that are no longer legal but that could be dealt with by a simple amendments.

So, to get to 2/3, somebody needs to make a compelling case for why this will make us better off. I have not heard that yet but have an open mind.

11 years ago

Not only are the bulk of special permits granted by the Planning Board, taking over control from both the ZBA and the Con Com, but way too many of the new bylaws refer to “the discretion of the Planning Board.” That is, in essence, not a “bylaw” but a “blank check” for the Planning Board to do what they want based on variables like how well they know the applicant. I am not accusing the Planning Board of corruption, but today’s Planning Board members may not be tomorrow’s Planning Board members and giving this kind of discretion could be abused. The law should be objective not subjective in my opinion.

11 years ago
Reply to  Resident

I have carefully read through the proposed zoning regs and agree wholeheartedly with the post by “Resident ….February 22, 2013 at 11:06 AM”. Good points to consider that deserve thoughtful discussion.

Also, all, please review comments and questions posed by “Mark Ford on February 20, 2013 at 11:14 AM” … for example ( I don’t like ceding power away from any of our committees. Is it true that under the new proposal, the bulk of Special Permits would be issued by the Planning Board and not by the ZBA? If so, why?).

When we consolidate authority to a smaller group (Planning Board …. special permit matters), we may find that the outcome of such authority are consequences that do not reflect a broader set of values (conservation issues, broader zoning concerns, etc). i don’t know just yet, but a crystal clear debate is needed that sheds more light that heat on the merits of this fundamental change. Maintaining the rural feel to S-boro important to me? Absolutely! Finding ‘meaningful’ new sources of tax revenue important to me? Most definitely! Whether these changes will promote and protect both is the main question! unsupported claims with factual analysis is no way to make a decision.

I would ask that change proponents provide at least three (3) clear and persuasive examples as to why powers now shared by various oversight boards

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