Planning Board hiring consultants: 40B review, zoning revision help, and Open Space project

The Planning Board is looking to contract consultants to help them move forward on important efforts. Two long time goals of the board – revising zoning and cleaning up Open Space administration process – are on the list. The board also plans to bring in a consultant to advise on the 40B process for Park Central.

At their last two meetings, the board discussed plans to get contracts in order before June 30th. That’s because the funds will come out of the FY16 budget from money that would have gone to the Town Planner salary.

According to Chair Don Morris, since each contract is small (under $10K) they can directly contract with consultants rather than putting out an RFP for bids. 

The consultant for Park Central will be a 40B expert, but not an attorney. Therefore he won’t be considered special counsel. The board is still concerned about the Zoning Board of Appeals possible overreach on the project. But their request to consult an attorney (other than Town Counsel) for an opinion was denied by the Board of Selectmen.

Planning also hopes to work with a consultant on revising the Town’s zoning bylaws. It’s a project that the Town and Planning Board have been working on for years with little progress.

From 2008-2012 a Zoning Advisory Committee worked on revamping the code to controversial results. The project was then booted over to the Planning Board who targeted 2012 Town Meeting for a vote on new bylaws, then a special fall 2013 Town Meeting. It was cancelled both times.

In 2014, on advice of their new (now former) Town Planner, they decided to address the bylaws in sections rather than as a whole. They started with a “Site Plan Review” Article at Annual Town Meeting in 2014, but withdrew it on the floor.  It never made it back to 2015 or 2016 meetings as promised.

Now the board hopes a consultant working with them can:

  • Help with research and drafting, get some proposed language for designating zoning code revisions
  • Advise on recent trends in municipal zoning codes
  • Answer questions and suggest approaches to our code update
  • Give advice regarding recent court rulings that deal with planning and zoning topics

They hope to hire someone who has worked in Southborough and is familiar with our codes. The initial goal is updating the Site Plan Review bylaws. If there is money left in the contract, they may then pursue a second bylaw section.

Another issue the board has struggled with is Open Space process. Issues at Barn Hollow put a spotlight on a problem that is wider reaching. The Town has lacked a clear process for following up on Open Space restrictions imposed as part of subdivision approvals.

MassAudubon was contracted to help the Town research deeds and build a database to track Open Space restrictions. That project is almost complete. The project will allow residents to reference an online spreadsheet of subdivisions and click to see related decisions and the official plan.

The working group for that project developed a working plan for the Planning Board’s OS consultant. And MassAudubon has apparently agreed to the the broadstrokes and taking it on.

The consultant will advise the Town on how to proceed with their Open Space issues, including:

  • Advise on process to re-record deed restrictions with time expiration issues
  • Recommend next steps for remedying issues for Open Space parcels on the report designated “needs improvement” or at protection level 1 or 2
  • Formulate a template for future subdivision approval for language to be included in decision plans and permits.
  • Devise a recording process to ensure those requirements are met
  • Recommend process for updating the GIS layer and database as new subdivisions are approved

A final contract appeared to be for continuation of part time administrative support for the busy department.

In other news, Chair Don Morris updated the board last week on filling the Town Planner vacancy. They were still working on formalizing the official offer to their selected candidate. As of that day, they expected Joythi Grama to accept the position soon.

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