Last week, the Zoning Board of Appeals voted on conditions for a Park Central Use Variance. During the meeting, Chair Leo Bartolini defended his handling of the conditions outside of the Public Hearing and a charge that he may be usurping power from the Planning Board.
Bartolini said that he watched last week’s Planning Board meeting, where members questioned his process. He justified that the process, including deliberating on conditions after closing the public hearing, was legal and setup by Town Counsel.
Town Counsel Aldo Cipriano jumped in to clarify:
Initially, the chair wanted to decide conditions outside of the public forum. And we preempted that and indicated, and some of the members I knew were concerned about that, that it had to be in the public forum.
Earlier in the meeting, Cipriano stated:
procedurally, initially, the better way would have been to consider the conditions as part of the public hearing. But it was closed and then there was discussion about having these conditions circulated post hearing, which was not the appropriate way.
So that’s why I suggested you come back into this session as a public meeting.”
Cipriano also made clear that handling of the conditions before closing public hearings, to allow multiple proposals and distilling of ideas, is the preferred way. He counseled the board not to close public hearings before making conditions in the future.
One of the Planning Boards’ concerns was Bartolini’s possible usurping of their power by getting involved in some of the Site Plan Review. Bartolini explained that the overlap of the Use Variance project with the 40B project requires it.
The ZBA Chair pointed out that both projects will share a driveway “off of the 40B highways”. The use variance drainage will also be connected to the 40B and make use of that project’s septic.
Bartolini said that after the 40B is approved, the Site Plan Review will proceed to the Planning Board. Bartolini defended that his procedure was “exactly the way to do it”.
Cipriano supported the Chair, explaining that the two projects are a “Planned Unit Development”:
It’s unusual. It’s workable, it’s doable, but it creates a whole interconnection of regulations that have to be fit under local bylaws. And that’s what you’re trying to do and I think you’re doing an admirable job on that.
But earlier in the meeting, the closed public hearing complicated discussions and shut the abutters’ attorney out of condition discussions.
The board did include the agreement between abutters and the developer in the conditions. But they voted not to include abutters’ requested revisions to conditions after quashing their attorney’s attempt to explain them.
The conditions up for vote were based on a draft by the developer’s attorney. That draft was updated with information by Town Counsel and ZBA conditions inserted by the board’s secretary. It was then circulated to ZBA members and Dan Hill, the attorney representing several abutters.
Hill provided revisions that afternoon. Looking at the new comments, member Jeffrey Walker said to Hill:
I’m quickly reading some of this. . . A lot of it seems like mumbo jumbo legalize stuff that really is, in my opinion, not that significant. Is there anything specific that is really important?
When Hill began to explain, Cipriano cautioned the board:
We just have to be careful here because you’re in deliberative session. We don’t want what’s coming before you to be considered as new evidence.
The ZBA then shot down one of Hill’s comments and stopped his attempt to explain two “important” issues.
Cipriano told the board that as long as it wasn’t new evidence was allowable. But the board had the right to say no. Member David Eagle responded, “but we’re not asking for clarification.”
The board then unanimously voted to reject Hill’s changes without allowing him to speak. Bartolini claimed that the abutters will get a chance to address issues further along in the process.
The 40B project will come up in front of the ZBA again on July 29th. The developer anticipates having engineered plans for the board sometime in August.