It’s been a rocky road recently for the Planning Board. Two weeks after giving their recommendation for an article at Town Meeting striking the use of gravel from zoning bylaws, some members of the group are reversing their position. It’s been a rocky road recently for the Planning Board.

Two weeks after giving their recommendation for an article at Town Meeting striking the use of gravel from zoning bylaws, some members of the group are reversing their position.  This was evident in a discussion at Monday’s meeting that divided board members on the issue.

At the meeting, the board revisited their 6-1 vote from February 2 to delete two references to gravel in sections of the bylaw that deal with parking regulations and site development standards. 

Planning Board Chairman Peter Donahue was the dissenting vote at that meeting, indicating that while he was a proponent of paved surfaces, he agreed with a pair of correspondences that to eliminate gravel, the board also should take a look at how the proposed change would affect site coverage for existing and future projects.  While paved surfaces are included in site coverage calculations, gravel surfaces are not, and many commercial projects use gravel to meet site coverage limits.

Donahue said that following the group’s February 2 meeting, some members of the board approached him indicating that they were reconsidering their vote in favor of the bylaw amendments and recommended that the board revisit the subject before Town Meeting and before it could be scrutinized.

“Since I’ve been on the planning board, we have not failed to get public approval [on articles],” he said.  “We’ve taken our time, done our research, done our homework and presented the full picture.  I’m recommending there might be more to look at [here] and I’d hate to have our record tarnished because of issues raised at Town Meeting and have the board not have discussed this as much as we usually do.”

Donahue’s greater concern than the board’s reputation, however, was that site coverage was definitely tied to the language change, but the board was not addressing that impact.

He noted a correspondence from Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman James Lampert that essentially echoed his feelings.

Donahue said that gravel parking surfaces, over time, go from being pervious ñ and not part of site coverage ñ to impervious because it does not drain rainwater and other substances.  With this in mind, he said, perhaps the board should reconsider the bylaw requirement of 50 percent site coverage and increase it since what is pervious today will become impervious tomorrow.

Board member Angela Scieszka argued that this is more of an environmental issue than a site coverage issue and therefore, the amendment could stand on its own.

Donahue countered and board members Robert Wilson and James Kimball agreed that applicants, mostly businesses, would not argue the environmental issue with the amendment change, but the fact that the board was taking their right to use gravel away and should look at site coverage.

He revisited several cases where the board wanted and got paved surfaces but then the applicant received a site coverage waiver anyway and that most applicants, mostly businesses, only got to 50 percent site coverage because they included gravel in their plans.

“We got what we wanted and then do waivers consistently for coverage,” said Donahue.  “The bylaw is not doing what it should because we shouldn’t have to give out waivers.”

He reasserted that if gravel is not included in site coverage, yet over time it becomes impervious and essentially increases site coverage, the board should simply consider increasing the site coverage percentage, but only after conducting research such as looking at how other towns handle the issue.  This could be done, he said, after the proposed articles were either withdrawn or indefinitely postponed, with the understanding that the board would not abandon the issue, but instead investigate it and perhaps come back to it at the 2005 Annual Town Meeting.

Discussion on the issue continued until minutes before the planning board was to present their recommendations of board-sponsored articles to the Board of Selectmen.  Donahue recommended the board vote to either withdraw or indefinitely postpone the article before going before selectmen to save themselves and that group time debating the issue.  While Wilson and Kimball seemed ready to vote on the matter, Sciezska and George Wadsworth wanted to hear what selectmen and members of the public had to say and no formal vote was taken.

Wadsworth said no member of the public had come to their public hearing on the matter nor submitted their own article on the warrant to change the bylaw, so hearing input would be welcomed.  Donahue referred to the correspondence from Bayside Marine owner J.R. Kent and contractor Shawn Dahlen as two examples of the public’s disapproval on the matter

At their presentation before selectmen on board-sponsored amendments, when Article 28 came up, there were plenty of opinions.

Lampert spoke about his memo and how it essentially provided a Catch-22 for his group, acknowledging that most businesses in town utilize gravel.

“If [the proposed amendment passes] and the site coverage goes beyond 50 percent and satisfies the planning board, the applicant will come to the ZBA and we can’t give them a permit because they are over the [bylaw requirement for site coverage],” he said.  “We have to take these issues together.”

Kent echoed Lampert’s remarks and also expressed his concern that this situation would essentially prevent businesses from making improvements on their property because they couldn’t get proper approval.

Selectmen concurred that there was a problem, with Betsy Sullivan indicating that the town “already sets a high bar for businesses and this is above and beyond that.”

Former planning board member and current selectman Andre Martecchini agreed and said he could not support the amendment as written, nor could John Tuffy.

Sullivan and Stickney agreed that further deliberation was needed and the planning board would send their final verdict on the matter to selectmen after discussing it at their March 1 meeting.