Roundup of Planning Board business in the news (Updated)

[Update/Editor’s note: A friend observed that my headline implied coverage was of the Planning Board. That wasn’t my intent. I just wanted to point out the relevance of these stories to business currently in front of the Planning Board.]

Two topics of recent stories by The Metrowest Daily News are relevant to the agenda for tonight’s Planning Board meeting.

Tonight’s agenda includes discussion of the Barn Hollow open space parcel and continued public hearings on the Stone Brook Village development.

Southborough commission, neighbors discuss problematic land – from MWDN:

The Open Space Preservation Commission Thursday held an open dialogue with two neighbors affected by the recent dispute over undeveloped land at Barn Hollow, resolving some problems but parting with still many unanswered questions. . .

[Barn Lane resident Brendan Leonard] said he believes whatever action homeowners are required to take should be consistent across the town. He said there are likely many other homeowners in other parts of town that have infringed on, and that taking enforcement – and possibly legal – action against just Barn Hollow residents wouldn’t be fair.

“Isn’t there room for reasonable people to reach a reasonable conclusion?” he asked, noting that the town hasn’t said anything about the infringements for the past decade. (read more)

Neighbors appeal board ruling on Southborough’s Oregon Road project – from MWDN:

Oregon Road residents Meme Luttrell and Lisa Braccio on Thursday filed an appeal of a recent Zoning Board of Appeals decision that would give town developer Bill Depietri partial permission to build a senior housing project on their street.

Depietri originally received approval for a 15-condo affordable housing project in 2010, but changed his mind in 2011 and applied for 15 senior condos.

Braccio and Luttrell believe the town’s bylaw as written only allows the ZBA to grant approval for senior housing projects that are proposd by nonprofits, pointing to a section of town code that seems to back such a view. (read more)

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Al Hamilton
9 years ago

I have reviewed the Zoning By Law, the Sub Division By Law, and the Open Space Committee By Law as published in the Code of the Town of Southborough.

I have not found any wording that suggests that it is illegal to mow at least a portion of the land preserved as open space. If I am incorrect I would appreciate someone correcting me.

The Zoning by law implies that a portion (about 60%) of open space is to be made available for recreation.

The Sub Division by law also envisions managing a portion of open space for playgrounds or parks.

Both clearly imply that a portion of open space can be managed in a “not natural” state.

If a group of neighbors want to maintain a portion open space by mowing it I think we should encourage that activity. Perhaps, there should be a plan of what part of open space the town desires to be maintained in a park like state. If neighbors want to do so we should say “thank you” not “you are in violation of an apparently non existent by law”

Tim Martel
9 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

From a general perspective, I think you’re looking at it the opposite way. Unless a law specifically allows you to modify land that you do not own, wouldn’t there be a presumption that you cannot do so? As opposed to saying, “where is the law that says I cannot modify land I don’t own?”

Regardless, here are some things to consider:

1. Wetlands Protection Act (MGL C. 131, § 40)

I think this one is clear. Any space, open or not, within this zone cannot be altered.

2. Adverse Possession

“Improvement, cultivation, or enclosure” can be the basis of a claim. Specifically, any action that changes the land away from a “wild and natural state”, including mowing, planting, clearing, etc., can be such a basis. As such, its not surprising that the Town would object to residents maintaining town land, even in principle.

3. 174-13.2 Major Residential Development (i.e. 8 or more lots with 8 or more units)
G. Decision
(2) General Design Criteria
(b) Ownership, maintenance and use restrictions on common land and facilities.
[1] The ownership and maintenance responsibilities of all private and/or common areas and facilities (including but not limited to open space, recreational facilities, roads and sewer treatment plants, if any) shall be subject to approval of the Planning Board, and in the case of sewer treatment plants, subject to the approval of the Board of Health.

So, did the developer present a maintenance plan for this subdivision to the Planning Board and gain their approval?

Al Hamilton
9 years ago
Reply to  Tim Martel

Tim

I chose my words carefully, perhaps too carefully. I merely wanted to establish the fact that some portion of the land set aside as “open space” can be actively managed (mowed) for recreation/park/playground purposes. Who does this active management and under what conditions is a separate issue.

I certainly agree that active management of wetlands is a more problematic issue but a significant part of our “open space” is “upland” and that space is potentially available to be actively managed for recreation/park/playgrounds as envisioned in our by laws.

There are a large number of open space parcels scattered across town. I believe that the reality is that the town does not know where they all are. The developers associated with those parcels have moved on and there is probably no management plan on file and no practical way to bring them back to the table.

My suggestion is that for the parcels owned by the Town, the Open Space Committee work with the the neighbors to come up with a management plan. This could include identifying places where playgrounds might be set up, areas that could be mowed, or where trails could be built/maintained or where it would be desireable to maintain as a meadow (eg annual or semi annual mowing), Dog walking areas (watch your step). Then, a group of neighbors want to maintain the property consistent with the plan we all win. If not the land reverts.

The current approach appears to me to be very adversarial and will lead to a lose-lose scenario that will lessen support for open space in the long run.

Elder
9 years ago

Mr. Hamilton, You are once again right on target. The anger and arrogance of the people on Open Space is beyond bearable. They should be working with residents and not against them.

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