TEWKSBURY — The Planning Board met Monday, Sept. 14 for a meeting via videoconference due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
The board returned to a definitive subdivision/open space residential design discussion for 181 Pine St. The proponent, James Andella, is seeking several waivers for the project regarding landscaping and sidewalks. The proponent took issue with being required to construct sidewalks along adjacent properties instead of contributing to the sidewalk fund; Planning Board member Steve Johnson stated the properties in question are part of the developer’s open space proposal.
Town Engineer Kevin Hardiman noted that the location of the proposed sidewalk lines up with the town’s sidewalk master plan. Hardiman also noted that the DPW does not agree with the dimensions of the proposed frontage waiver.
Chairman Bob Fowler asked the proponent how the board and the developer could come to an agreement. An unidentified voice was heard shouting “getting rid of you!” Board members sought to assign the comment with no resolution.
Johnson said, “I think the chair is owed more respect.”
An abutter called in to ask about flooding on his property, but members struggled to hear him via audio. Board members complained about the quality of the audio during the teleconference and asked about holding meetings in person.
Assistant Town Manager Steve Sadwick responded that the governor’s orders limit indoor gatherings to eight people per thousand square feet, which would allow for only 12 people in the town hall meeting room (including five board members and two staff members, leaving five openings for proponents, their consultants, and the public).
“We may end up running into situations where meetings would have to be shut down because we’re not providing access... if you have one person in there at a time, the question is, are you preventing the rest of the public from participating or observing the meeting?” Sadwick said, referring to Open Meeting Laws, adding that “most communities are still operating on a remote basis right now.”
“I don’t think bringing all of us into a building, especially coming into the fall months of the year, makes sense,” added Johnson. “I don’t feel our meetings are any more important than other boards or other towns, for that matter… We have a couple of members on the board who certainly fall into a high risk category... ultimately, we haven’t had this issue with other phone calls. This is just a diatribe of comments without interruption, and that tends to be the problem in this version... the health and safety has to come first before we start trying to put people in a room... I don’t think we live in a time where [technical issues] are the number one concern.”
Johnson said that residents can appeal decisions to the board, though he explained that the resident has repeatedly submitted his comments and the board is aware of them.
The resident struggled with hearing the board’s audio, and kept speaking; Fowler fired at him: “Have you ever had a conversation without interrupting?”
The resident said he disagreed with the assessment that he had shared all of his comments: “You’re saying I’ve had plenty of time to speak. I haven’t had any time to speak,” he said.
Fowler said that if the resident felt aggrieved and wanted to appeal the board’s eventual decision, he would need to hire a lawyer. The resident asked why the board refused to “enforce the law” regarding the developer discharging water onto his property, noting that the engineer had said the development would do just that.
“You have the right to protect your property, it’s not up to this board to protect your property,” said Fowler, offering 30 more seconds of discussion, then cutting the resident off.
The board voted to have member Eric Ryder represent the board in discussion with Sadwick and the resident to discuss his concerns at a smaller meeting.
The board reviewed a site plan special permit for 2512 Main St. The proponent’s design consultant Jim Hanley shared changes to the plan, including square footage, drainage, and snow storage. The board voted to approve five waivers and the site plan special permit.
The board reviewed a land disturbance permit for 180 Pond St., the former DAV hall. After listening to updates from proponent Matt Ginsburg, the board approved the permit. Fowler asked Ginsburg to thank his father Marc for calling him to wish him well on an upcoming operation.
The board tabled a DPW sidewalk discussion. The board adopted an updated version of the subdivision rules and regulations with small formatting changes.
The next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 5, 2020. Residents wishing to comment may find the call-in number during the meeting and on the meeting agenda on the town website. The meeting may be viewed on Comcast channel 99 and Verizon channel 33.