The Planning Board has begun to discuss some of the articles it is proposing for this March’s Annual Town Meeting, including one to increase its numbers from seven to nine members. The Planning Board has begun to discuss some of the articles it is proposing for this March’s Annual Town Meeting, including one to increase its numbers from seven to nine members.

Under Article 25, the board is seeking a town vote to adopt provisions under Massachusetts General Laws that allow the board, in its role as Special Permit Granting Authority, to appoint two associate members to assist them in special permit reviews, including voting rights.

During a public hearing on the article Monday night, Chairman Peter Donahue said that the two members would work only on special permits and not any other business.  He added that for a special permit, two-thirds of the board has to vote in the affirmative and all members must be present for all of the public hearings on the matter. 

Therefore, he said, because a clear majority is needed to pass the permit and there is the tendency for the board to have absences from time to time, the ability to appoint these associate members ensures continuity in the special permit process and the ability for the board to act reasonably in getting hearings decided.

Donahue added that associate members could use their time participating with the board as sort of an “on-the-job training” if they wish to become elected members in the future.

“This gives the opportunity for interested members of the public to be involved in the planning process and understand more than they normally would,” he said.

After a brief discussion, the board decided that the terms for associate members would be two years, to allow continuity in the permit process and benefit the knowledge base of the member.

The only member of the public who spoke at Monday’s hearing was former selectman Ruth Rowley, who suggested that in order to avoid any conflict with town meeting voters or an applicant down the road, that the board change its article to create associate members by amending the zoning bylaws, specifically the section that deals with special permits.

Planning Director Christine Stickney said she confirmed with Town Counsel Robert Troy that because it is a provision under state law, it did not require an amendment to the bylaws.

Donahue said the state law indicates that the planning board, as the special permit granting body, may appoint up to two associate members, but does not require it to be in the bylaws.

Rowley asked that if the planning board is saying it will make this move, why was it coming to town meeting in the first place, to which Donahue replied it was his interpretation of the state statute that the town establishing the positions needs to determine the procedure for filling these spots and that should be done by town meeting voters.

He added that with what he foresees as many special permits coming the board’s way, this was a crucial article to get before voters for approval and that it is too late now to change the warrant to say they want to amend the zoning bylaws.

Rowley contended several times that it was simply her suggestion to clarify the issue for town voters and ensure the appointments are done right today, so they are not challenged in court by an angry applicant later.

After a back and forth discussion over whether or not the article could proceed as written, Stickney said she would ask Troy his opinion again, detailing the parameters Rowley brought up during the hearing.  The public hearing was continued until February 23, so Stickney could get Troy’s opinion in writing for the board and the public.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board addressed two articles regarding language changes to the zoning bylaws.  Article 29 seeks to correct a typo that references the wrong section of the bylaw, which the board approved unanimously, and Article 28 looks to delete two references to gravel in sections of the bylaw that deal with parking regulations and site development standards.

The board received two pieces of correspondence from former applicants who came before them indicating that if the board removes the language regarding gravel, they should also re-visit bylaw issues regarding an increase in site coverage if gravel was to be eliminated for a preference of paved surfaces, which the board indicated has been their choice in previous hearings.

After a lengthy discussion, the board voted 6-1 to accept the article with a minor language addition regarding pavement markings.  Donahue, while indicating he is a big proponent of paved surfaces, voted against the article, agreeing with the correspondents that the board needed to look at site coverage as an issue tied closely to this.

The other members of the board agreed that they wanted to see this change occur first and then discuss site coverage issues and would discuss the matter further at town meeting if citizens had concerns.

In other business at Monday’s meeting, the board:

*Requested a memo be written to the Zoning Board of Appeals regarding the special permit before them on a project at 661 Washington St.  In the request for the memo, Donahue said he took exception to contractor Shawn Dahlen’s comments to the ZBA at a recent meeting that the planning board “missed the concept” of the house reconstruction project and never asked for his input on the project.  Donahue said that Dahlen’s assertion that he was not given the opportunity to talk to the planning board was incorrect and that they recommended denial on the permit after a thorough explanation of the plans to them by Dahlen.  Donahue stressed that the ZBA get this information so it can be submitted into the record when the issue is continued before them on March 11.