This week, two boards met to discuss alleged overreach by the Zoning Board of Appeals on the largest development project that Southborough has ever had. And a third party reports that the ZBA Chair will seek to reverse the decisions behind the controversy.
The topic of ZBA over-reach was a familiar one for the Planning Board. Members have long worried about the ZBA’s handling of two linked projects at Park Central. Now, the Conservation Commissioned is chiming in. As Planning Chair Don Morris put it last night, Conservation has
recently joined our world of having their jurisdiction stepped on by the ZBA
Park Central is the site of a 40B condo unit project and a townhouse project under a Use Variance permit. The ZBA has wide authority over the 40B project, but it’s oversight of the other project is more restricted. Meanwhile, ZBA Chair Leo Bartolini has maintained that elements of the overall Park Central site, such as access roads, fall under his board’s rule.
The Conservation Commission was dismayed by ZBA rulings at a February meeting. The board granted waivers on Town restrictions for wetland buffer zones and storm water and erosion control for both projects. (The projects still have to meet state regulations, just not the Town’s more stringent codes.)
Morris posited that the ZBA did have the appeal authority to grant the Water Resource Protection waiver on the Townhouses, but believed that the other was Conservation’s to grant or not.
And Conservation Commissioner Beth Rosenblum said that in a December memo to the ZBA, the commission asked for a chance to comment on any conservation waivers.
According to Morris, the ZBA didn’t share the developer’s multiple waiver requests with Conservation or the Planning Board prior to its February 24th vote. Then at around 11:00 pm that night, Chair Leo Bartolini encouraged the developer to request the waivers for a vote.*
Morris questioned last night if proper notice was given. The agenda did not list the waivers and specifically referred to the 40B permit with no mention of the Townhouse project.
At the time, Bartolini told developer Bill Depietri that he should get the Conservation waivers before the next ZBA meeting. Otherwise the developer would need to go to Conservation. He then encouraged the board to grant the waivers, stating that they had done they had done this before.
The Chair justified that Conservation had done it for “Bob Moss’ project” (likely referring to the Madison Place 40B): “When they go to Conservation, I don’t think they’ll give them a hard time, because they have approved this prior”. And member Paul Drepanos was reassured by Bartolini that Conservation would review the plans.
But last night, Conservation Chair Mark Possemeto clarified that with waivers already granted, the developer won’t need to make any concessions for Conservation.
Possemeto said they have waived “no touch buffers” before. But he explained that those were done with due diligence, working with the applicant to try to make the footprint work with the regulations. He characterized those discussions as healthy, resulting in designs that meet both needs.
A Tara Road resident, concerned about the ZBA’s actions, said he and his wife complained to Town Administrator Mark Purple. Chris Perkins said he heard back from Purple that he had followed up with Bartolini and Town Counsel. He read aloud from that message:
Mr. Bartolini agreed there should have been prior conversation about the requested waivers before a vote was taken. He also agreed to send a letter to conservation seeking their input and at the next meeting will ask the ZBA to reconsider its vote on the decision. I have asked the Town Counsel to begin attending the ZBA hearings on this matter again and to ensure that proper process is followed.
The agenda for this Thursday’s meeting includes under Park Central
Discussion of a request for bylaw waivers and the approval of 2 bylaw waiver requests.
But Morris points out that the agenda still only refers to the 40B project. And Rosenblum said that Conservation had yet to receive any letter from Bartolini.
Earlier in discussion, the boards considered whether to craft a joint or separate memo, and if questions should go to the ZBA or Town Counsel. Member Phil Jenks told the board and public that he no longer believed they should seek outside counsel.
Bartolini has claimed that previous controversial actions were based on Town Counsel Aldo Cipriani’s advice. So, Jenks originally assumed that questioning Cipriani on the ZBA’s actions would put him in too awkward a position.
Jenks since “learned” that Cipriani should decide whether or not he can answer their questions. He advised they should point their legal questions to Town Counsel.
Conservation left the Planning Board meeting with the intent to discuss their memo to the ZBA following up on concerns. During the joint session, Planning didn’t vote to pursue any memos or letters.
*Note: The description of the discussion that took place on February 24th is mine based on watching the video. (I worried it may look like it was Morris’ description of events.)