Planning to allow ANRs and Site Plan Review processes to begin

This week, the Planning Board decided to “get the ball rolling” on reopening processes for ANRs and Site Plan Review. The intent discussed was to start processes, but hold off on decisions until the public can participate in a more traditional manner.

The discussion in Monday’s meeting revealed that applicants have been holding back two potential ANRs* and one Site Plan Review. The decision to not yet proceed was at least partially due to a warning from the Town Planner. She shared the board’s decision in early April to hold off on those discussions and hearings until the public was able to attend meetings in person.

In March, the Board of Selectmen had put a temporary hold on Town committee’s meetings to limit agendas to urgent Covid-19 related business. Once the rules relaxed, they still cautioned boards to avoid agenda items that would normally prompt active public participation. 

On Monday night, Chair Don Morris referred to recent decisions by the Governor to begin reopening the state. He noted that if they notified a potential Site Plan Review applicant now, a hearing still couldn’t be opened until late July. If in-person meetings still aren’t allowed, they could open a hearing over zoom. He said that applicants would be told that hearings which normally take at least 2-3 meetings could take longer.

Planner Karina Quinn clarified to members that the copies of material packets for the Site Plan Review on hold had already been submitted early in the pandemic. Each member will receive one. Morris clarified that he would look to hold of on making a decision until abutters have the opportunity to access materials. (Normally, abutters are notified that they can drop in to view materials in the Planning office. Currently, the Town House is still closed to the public.)

Morris said starting the process on ANRs and Site Plan Review would start “the clock ticking” on decision deadlines. But he also referenced deadline protections given to Towns under Massachusetts’ current State of Emergency.

A law enacted in March put a temporary hold on constructive approvals based on local permitting boards failing to act by required deadlines. The hold is currently set to last until 45 days after the State of Emergency is declared to have ended.

*ANRs are Approval Not Required applications to split property into multiple parcels. As long as it meets ANR definitions, a formal hearing isn’t required and abutters don’t need to be notified. The Planning Board can reject an ANR if it deems that it somehow fails to meet one of the defining criteria or the application is incomplete. The Planning 

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