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To the Editor:
I would like to share with the larger community the letter I sent to the Select Board last week regarding the January 16 meeting of our Zoning Board of Appeals. The first agenda item for that meeting was a discussion of a request by the developer of the Lincoln/Prescott Streets site for a modification to its decision from the ZBA. I, and many others in attendance that evening, were taken aback by the egregiously tone-deaf response from the ZBA to the concerns of the neighborhood and other residents of the town.
While the Select Board may be limited in its response to the actions by the ZBA last week, it does need to ensure that the town has in place strategies and enforcement options that hold developers and builders responsible for their actions. This town has been very accommodating to developers. It needs also to expect the developers to be respectful to the agreements worked out in the public processes with the ZBA and the Community Planning and Development Commission and to be respectful to the neighborhoods in which they are working.
Mary Ellen O’Neill
125 Summer Ave
Dear Select Board Members,
This morning I was reading through the Select Board packet and noticed several letters from concerned community members about the Lincoln/Prescott construction site agenda item for the January 16 ZBA meeting. None of these letters were mentioned at that meeting. I understand the timing was compressed, but community members had very little notice about this agenda item. Also, the letters were addressed to the Select Board and not to the ZBA.
Nonetheless, given the importance of this matter to the neighborhood and the community at large which is facing the impact of this and numerous projects in the development pipeline, there should have been an effort made to get these letters to the ZBA.
I attended that January 16 meeting of the ZBA and was taken aback by the actions of that body. The individual members of the ZBA stated their opinion on the matter before hearing any public input. There was a marked lack of curiosity by the members to gather information about the issue. A few questions were posed to town council and town staff, none to the building commissioner. At least two of those letter to the Select Board contained material that the ZBA could have used in its deliberations. In addition, the ZBA chair on two occasions unfairly characterized the choice facing them as one of the project being built or of the project not being built. He did not raise the possibility of what other strategies exist to hold the developer accountable. Whether that was through ignorance, reluctance, or avoidance, I do not know.
However, the ZBA could have taken the opportunity to declare the modifications requested by the project applicant as substantial thereby triggering a 30-day period to collect more data, more input from staff and the community without hindering the ongoing construction at the site. People in the audience believed this was the reasonable choice. No one was looking to have the project halted or portions of the building demolished. But it was obvious from the comments made that the community was and is looking for accountability. Who is responsible for that?
The Select Board is the appointing authority to the ZBA. I think it is necessary for the Select Board to have a discussion of this recent meeting, how it was handled, and what can be done going forward.
Mary Ellen O’Neill