Lots of insight at the Public Hearing ‘that wasn’t’

Well – for a Hearing that ‘didn’t happen’, I learned quite a bit at the Planning Board last night.

You can watch the (short) discussion here, and the material that relates to the Town Center development starts at the 30 minute mark.

In bullet form, this is what I’ve come away with, followed by some relatively concrete suggestions that I’d like to ‘put out there’ for you – and us, as a community – to consider:

  • The Planning Board will NOT make its decision until all of the material has been submitted, studied by external consultants, and considered by both the Board and the public.
  • When that decision is made, BOTH the applicant AND any abutter have the right to contest the decision, first at the zoning board of appeals, and then in land court. This is a revelation for me.
  • Only 4 members of the Planning Board are able to vote on this application (one is in conflict, I think because she is a relative of an abutter), and any voting member cannot miss 2 of the Public Hearings, or will become ineligible to vote. So, Public Hearings are scheduled (and may be delayed to September, after the June 26th meeting) so as not to happen on a day when one of the Board members is unavailable, or when the Public might be traveling in large numbers.
  • The reason stated above is NOT the reason for either of the last two continuances. Rather, those continuances have been requested by the applicant (developers). The biggest point of contention last night was that the developer has been asking for those continuances in the late afternoon of the day of the scheduled meeting.
  • There was an extensive discussion in which both members of the public (there were about 15 in attendance, and another 10 on the Facebook Live feed) raised issue with the timing of those requests. A few people even suggested that the timing might be a conscious tactic by the applicants to disrupt momentum and interest on the part of the public attending these hearings. The Board was careful not to comment on that aspect, but Adam, the Town Planner, expressed that he is unwilling (and that it would be inappropriate) to force an applicant to move forward with a public hearing if he/she were unprepared to present. At issue with many of the audience was that surely the applicant would have known earlier than a few hours ahead that their documentation would not be ready. In response, Adam raised the point that the applicant doesn’t have to give any notice at all. They can arrive at the meeting and simply request the continuance then.
  • There was also a lot of discussion regarding whether the Town / Planning Board could do more to notify residents if they receive last minute notice that a continuance is going to be requested. Adam was hesitant to do this, since he was worried that not everyone interested would see a website notification, or update to the posted agenda (which are posted on Thursdays, which is 48 hours – working days) in advance. In response, the Board is looking into requesting that the Town send out either robocall announcements to the whole town, or perhaps a message via the opt-in text notification service that is used by the Boxborough Police and Fire departments. If you would like to support this request, please send a note to the Chair, John Markiewicz at johnplanning@outlook.com, ASAP. He seems inclined to advocate for this measure, on the grounds that there has been a strong level of interest in this issue in town. Please consider supporting his request by asking for this measure. It would be the best possible way to reach all residents, or at least a large proportion of them.
  • Another small point for future consideration is that there is a town bylaw that prevents loam from being removed from the town. I will explore whether that bylaw was in place in 2012, and if so, someone should determine what the developers plan to do with the loam that will be removed during the blasting to clear the work area for the buildings.

Finally, I do hope that we, as a community – or as a collection of smaller groups of residents with common concerns – can start to move forward with requests, suggestions, and constructive criticism as part of the Public Hearing process.

I say this, NOT because this proposal ‘is a done deal’ (as I know a lot of us have anticipated). Nothing is written in stone. (Certainly, the number of incarnations of this plan that we have seen in just the last 5 months speaks strongly to the fluidity of the future.)

But, the reality is, that IF the State environmental and DOT agencies give a green light to this project (which, to be honest, seems far from a ‘sure thing’), to date, what the developers have been proposing seems to be largely within the confines of the 2012 Town Center by-laws to which they are to be held.

Yet – and this is important (and a quote from the May Public Hearing), IF the Planning Board finds that the submitted site plan “although in proper form, may be so intrusive on the needs of the public in one regulated aspect or another that rejection by the Planning Board would be tenable. This would typically be a case in which, despite best efforts, no form of reasonable conditions could be devised to satisfy the problem with the plan.”

Thus, for this clause to be enacted, we ALL must make an effort to find compromise. I am unsure whether such a compromise will be possible, but there are a few ideas that have been discussed here and there.

With respect to this hope, a group of us will set up a table at Fifer’s Day (June 17th). Please come look for us there. We’ll have printouts of the latest plans, and I would love to hear any concrete suggestions of what you would like to see on this land (rather than the primary focus to date of what we would NOT like to see).

Perhaps we can find ‘reasonable conditions’ to present to the applicants at the June 26th meeting. Since it appears it will be the last Public Hearing till at least August, and more likely September, it will give the developers time to consider and perhaps incorporate suggestions from the community.

If not, we can all say that we tried, and then it will be up to the Planning Board to determine whether the final plan is excessively ‘intrusive on the needs of the public’, or not.

Thank you again to everyone who came to the meeting last night, despite the 11th hour rumors that a continuance might be in the works. I think it was exceptionally helpful that we had so many concerned residents in attendance, and will go a long way to ensuring that the Public Comment period is not closed precipitously.

Again, I am so grateful to be part of a community of individuals who are willing and able to come together to participate in decisions that impact all of us, and the generations (and new arrivals) to come. This is how it is supposed to work. And YOU make that a reality. I’m proud to be a Boxborough resident.

 

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