It may come as a surprise to learn that St. Mark’s School has been clear cutting trees for installation of its approved solar array on Sears Road.
(It was to me. Frankly, their project had dropped off my radar.)
This week, I learned about the clear cutting. But it’s some background details that really caught my attention. Earlier this spring/summer, a direct abutter appealed the project approval. Based on the pending appeal, the Building Inspector rejected St. Mark’s application for a building permit.
To move forward, St. Mark’s asked the Worcester Superior Court to summarily dismiss the appeal motion. Along with the school’s attorneys, Town Counsel Aldo Cipriano showed up to argue in favor of the school’s request.
(Presumably, that was justified as defending the actions of a Town Board. But it may hit a sore spot with some residents. During Park Central and Flagg Road hearings, residents complained about the Town’s perceived tendency to pay counsel to defend developers’ projects rather than objecting-residents’ rights.)
The judge rejected St. Mark’s request to dismiss. Instead, he green lighted moving forward with the discovery phase of the case.
After the ruling, the Building Inspector reversed his earlier decision and issued a building permit to the school. I asked Building Commissioner Mark Robidoux what the newer decision was based on. I wondered if it based on guidance from counsel, a Town official, or board. His response:
On the advice of Counsel and due to pending litigation, I cannot comment on any aspect of this.
As for the Planning Board’s approval last spring, unfortunately, there is no publicly posted record of it yet. (And no news coverage.)
In hearings prior to April 25th, abutters objected to the school’s plans.
And even some non-abutters were upset that St. Mark’s was taking advantage of laws that appear to waive zoning restrictions on buildings/construction for educational purposes. The school argued based on case law that anything that benefits the school is for an educational purpose. The argument persuaded the Zoning Board of Appeals to grant the right for constructing an industrial array in a residential zone.
After multiple continuances that spring, the Site Plan Review hearing was again scheduled April 25th.
Unfortunately, there was a perfect storm for keeping residents in the dark. Unlike other Planning Board Meetings, Southborough Access Media couldn’t be there that night to record it.
And not only did I miss attending, but it seems the Metrowest Daily News must have as well. I followed up with the then-understaffed Planning Office later that week and the next. As of early May, the decision had yet to be written up.
If it has been since, it was unfortunately never forwarded. Since then, minutes have been posted for April 11th and prior, plus minutes for meetings in May – July. But April 25th minutes have yet to be approved and provided to the staff member who does the postings.*
*Editor’s Note: I’d like to clarify that I am not accusing the board of hiding the decision. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that this is an oversight that occurred during a period of time when they were without a Town Planner.
I will continue to follow up to get ahold of the April 25th Planning Board Meeting minutes and decision. But, I didn’t want to hold the news until then. Especially since they are again understaffed with the recent retirement of their long-time assistant!
Updated (10/3/16 10:46 am): I received the minutes from the 4/25 approval vote.