Seeking ZBA Alternate: Apply by 10/11; Interviews and BOS vote on 10/17

Above: A Town advertisement for some openings on Town Committees has been updated to link to a list that includes the vacancy on the Zoning Board of Appeals (image from the Town website)

The Zoning Board of Appeals has had a vacancy in the alternate position since July. Now, the Town is making an effort to get the word out.

On Tuesday night, the Board of Selectmen interviewed the sole applicant for the spot. Instead of voting on whether or not to appoint him, the board opted to put the vote on hold until their October 17th meeting. This allows new applicants to apply until October 11th. (Scroll down for details)

Selectmen didn’t appear to be reacting out of displeasure with the candidate, Michael Robbins.

Instead, Selectwoman Lisa Braccio expressed concern about whether the public was informed about the opportunity. The selectwoman said she had nothing against Robbins. But she had heard from people with questions. Given the nature of the ZBA as a permitting board, she asked to have the position advertised for another go around.

Yesterday, the Town took steps to better publicize the opening. The Assistant Town Manager emailed me a notice about the vacancy which was also tweeted by @17common. And the Town website’s advertisement for volunteers now includes the ZBA.

As for Robbins’ interview, the candidate pitched himself as “relatively boring”. That may not seem like a plus in most situations. But given recent controversies around ZBA members, boring is likely what selectmen are looking for.

Robbins said that his experience as a real estate attorney would help on the “quasi judicial board”. He explained that he has a real working background knowledge of the zoning bylaws and related state statutes.

The candidate followed:

There are really straightforward guidelines set by the state. The candidate, whether it’s a deck, whether it’s a development, it either meets the requirements or they don’t. . . It shouldn’t be as politicized as it is. If it’s as boring as it’s supposed to be, then I’m doing my job. . .

I’m not pro or anti development in any way.

On questioning, the attorney said that he knows some developers in town but hasn’t worked for any of them.

Robbins had applied for the previous opening. At that time, selectmen had multiple candidates to choose from. Prior to Braccio’s request on Tuesday, Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf asked Town Administrator Mark Purple if the candidates from last time had been contacted.

Purple responded that he had already shared correspondence with Jonathan Green about the post, who said he wasn’t interested at this time. He assumed Sam Stivers (currently running for selectman) wasn’t interested. (Stivers was present and confirmed that.) And the other then-candidate had been appointed.

Just that morning, on the blog’s Facebook page, Green commented under my headline about the scheduled interview:

Out of Curiosity how many people knew there was an open seat on ZBA? I was told it was posted on the town website. I just don’t think people are regularly searching the town website. I do find it a problem that we have one candidate for ZBA and the board is ready to interview and elect without more input. I believe these are positions that unfortunately have put this town in a real poor predicament over the last 3 years and should not be taken lightly. Please comment if you had any idea until the mysouthborough post.

As I responded then, I did post a story in late June that notified readers of the coming vacancy. (And I know that Town officials were aware of that.) But I couldn’t find anything that showed the Town had made an effort to advertise the position. There don’t appear to have been Town Alerts or tweets on the specific opening. 

As Braccio pointed out, the opening is just one of 57 vacancies on Town boards. But, this vacancy isn’t a run of the mill one. The board’s ability to grant or deny variances and oversee special permits for large 40Bs has made it a lightening rod for controversy.

Recently, the Town advertised openings on new committees. Before yesterday, none of those communications mentioned that this opening existed.* Now, interested parties are hopefully on notice.

Anyone interested in vying with Robbins for the spot, or applying for another vacancy, should click here to submit an online application. Here is the Town’s announcement:

Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) – Alternate Position

The Board of Selectmen is seeking volunteers interested in serving on the Zoning Board of Appeals to fill an open seat as an Alternate Member. The ZBA is made up of five (5) Full Members, each serving rotating 5-year terms, and two (2) Alternate Members, whose terms are one (1) year each. Interested residents should submit a volunteer form to the Selectmen’s Office no later than Wednesday, October 11, 2017. The Board of Selectmen intends to conduct interviews and make an appointment at their next meeting on October 17, 2017. Interested residents must be able to attend this meeting in order to be considered.

The Zoning Department is responsible for the administration of appeals taken to the Southborough Board of Appeals. This Board is made up to five members appointed by the Selectmen to consider zoning decisions. The Board acts under the authority of MGL 40A, the State Zoning Act and Section 174 of the Southborough Code, the Town’s zoning regulations. It is authorized to grant variances, special permits and appeals of decisions involving the zoning regulations of the Town.

The Board holds hearings on an as-needed basis subject to the time limitations specified in the enabling legislation. A time frame of 10 to 12 weeks from the date of filing should be anticipated for the entire appeal procedure.

*Yes, I could have reminded readers when I ran those stories. But that assumes that I remembered the vacancy existed! With nothing being advertised by the Town, that fell through my cracks until the interview appeared on the agenda.

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