Citizen petition asks Selectmen to allow Planning Board to hire outside counsel

Over 300 residents are asking selectmen to reconsider a decision they made earlier this fall. Once again, the petition links back to discontent over the large development planned at Park Central*.

In September, the Planning Board, again**, asked for permission to hire outside counsel to advise them on the Park Central development. At the time, the board wanted help determining if they should appeal the Zoning Board of Appeal’s project approval.

Although the Planning Board is an elected entity with its own budget, the Town Code appears to make selectmen the ruling authority on which town departments and board can hire special counsel. Selectmen voted 2-1 to prohibit Planning from hiring outside counsel.

Selectman Paul Cimino, a former Planning Board member, argued that the board should have the authority to make their own decision. But selectmen Brian Shea (now Chair) and Dan Kolenda were worried about the impact of one Town board potentially suing another. And they were worried about setting a bad precedent.

Planning Chair Don Morris pled that Town Counsel was unable to properly advise them since he also represented the ZBA. And he argued that it would be a worse precedent to not act if another board (the ZBA) has acted improperly.

Though Morris lost his argument, his board proceeded to file an appeal in court without consulting counsel. Now residents are asking selectmen to allow the board to hire counsel to advise them on that appeal.

The petition is scheduled for discussion at tomorrow night’s Board of Selectmen meeting. That takes place at 6:30 pm in the Town House Hearing Room. (Though, the first item on the agenda is a Tax Classification hearing.)

The petition with 312 signatures states: 

We, as citizens of Southborough, call upon you, our elected members of the Board of Selectmen, to authorize and provide funds for the Planning Board to hire independent legal counsel to assist the Planning Board with all legal matters pertaining to the Planning Board’s actions related to the Park Central Project.

We are aware that actions taken by the Planning Board against the ZBA have resulted in pending litigation against the Town of Southborough. We believe that this fact is an additional, compelling reason for the Town to provide legal counsel for the Planning Board, and that it should not be used as a justification for denial of the Planning Board’s request for legal counsel.

We do not believe that you, as Selectmen, have acted in a manner that is consistent with our Town’s best interests in this matter and that you have unjustly denied the Planning Board the necessary legal counsel to enable them to do the job we the citizens of Southborough elected them to do.

By signing this petition, I confirm my registered voter status and, in the strongest terms possible, I urgently request that you, the Board of Selectmen, allow the Planning Board to retain independent legal counsel — effective immediately.

The petition was submitted to the board by resident Marnie Hoolihan along with a letter from her arguing:

We are aware that actions taken by the Planning Board against the ZBA have resulted in pending litigation against the Town of Southborough. We believe that this fact is an additional, compelling reason for the Town to provide legal counsel for the Planning Board, and that it should not be used as a justification for denial of the Planning Board’s request for legal counsel.

At the last BOS meeting, petitioners convinced selectmen to consider removing ZBA member Leo Bartolini from his board. They voted to hold a future hearing on the matter. That is not on this week’s agenda as expected. Instead there is a scheduled discussion of the process they need to follow.

Though accusations discussed focused on his behavior, controversy around Bartolini has been centered in his handling of Park Central hearings and decisions. At the end of the discussion, resident John Green warned selectmen that he and other upset residents would be back with a petition pushing the board to enable the Planning Board to hire counsel.

To see the submitted petition and letter, click here.

*For those of you who still aren’t familiar with Park Central:

The project is what many residents have been calling the biggest project we’ve ever seen in Southborough (aside from building the Sudbury Reservoir in the 1800s). Neighbors are estimating it represents expanding Town residences by 10%. It will add 180 40B condo units and, through a linked Use Variance, another 139 townhouses. The combined development is off of narrow, windy, residential Flagg Road.

Concern about potential traffic safety impacts on the area has been the major source of controversy.

**The September request was the Planning Board’s second time asking for outside counsel. In May, the board argued that Town Counsel Aldo Cipriano wasn’t the right attorney to answer their questions related to Park Central, since he was also advising the ZBA.

At the time, they were accusing the ZBA of overreach. And since the ZBA was claiming to be following Cipriano’s advice, Planning wanted advice from another attorney. But Cipriano claimed he was able to advise both boards since he represented the Town’s best interests.

Selectmen sided with Cipriano, and pushed the Planning Board to seek their advice from Town Counsel.

That was before Planning threatened to file an appeal against the ZBA. In September, Morris claimed that Cipriano couldn’t advise them on filing suit against the ZBA.

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Matthew Brownell
6 years ago

No idea why on God’ s Green Earth Mr. Kolenda and Mr. Shea would object to the Planning Board seeking Outside counsel on the Park Place fiasco.

Had the Selectmen and the ZBA had the cajones and the inetegrity to stand up to a self-serving developer who is Hell-Bent on jamming in an unsafe development by Use Variance and 40B leverage, the Planning Board would not have been forced into requesting the legal air cover.

This course of events is, unfortunately, completely predictable, given that the Developer’s only solution to the land-locked parcel is to dump all traffic from this monstrous sh**storm onto Flagg Road, where it CLEARLY does not belong.

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