Once again, the Planning Commission holds a meeting without posting any documents on ClerkBase—and there's still nothing posted as of this writing.
By Linda Felaco
As it turned out, the “Subdivision/Land Development Regulations & Zoning Ordinance Re-Write” entry on the agenda for last night’s Planning Commission meeting wasn’t about shrubbery and parking after all. Don’t ask me what it was about though. Damned if I could figure it out without having access to whatever document it was they were flipping through (which to make matters worse obscures the audio; how I wish they’d computerize). Something to do with checklists and site review and responding to criticisms that they take too long to make decisions. And phonetic pronunciations of Roman numerals (e.g., “ex-eye-eye” and “ex-eye-eye-eye.” Though one or the other of them had an extra eye. Or something.).
At the end of the discussion, Chair Ruth Platner helpfully pointed out that they weren’t really changing anything, just moving stuff around into different sections. Just wasting time trying to find better ways to explain to applicants why the Planning Commission wastes so much of their time.
Though it appears I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t entirely clear on what exactly it was they were doing. George Tremblay said he was willing to go along with whatever Platner was suggesting but that to him it was like “voting on the interpretation of the Rosetta stone.” Yup, I’d say that about sums it up.
|Just who gets to see these things before they're on ClerkBase?|
Then Town Council President Tom Gentz wanted to make sure whatever it was they were discussing next was available online, to which Platner responded that it was on the Horsley Witten website, though I’m damned if I can figure out which document it is. To which Gentz said “There are certain people who like to read these things before it ends up on ClerkBase.” Oh really. So much for open and transparent government. I’d sure like to know who these privileged people are.
Next came about an hour of discussion of stormwater runoff and how much is allowable, the equivalent of a one-year storm or a 100-year storm. Or something. And does part f, which talks about runoff onto someone’s property, mean the same thing as part g, which talks about runoff off someone’s property. (Just a guess here: Probably not.)
And the Planning Commissioners apparently haven’t gotten the memo that “study commissions” are a road to nowhere. George Tremblay put together a questionnaire he wants to ask other neighboring rural towns about their experiences with affordable housing in order to have some data to back up the request to the General Assembly for a moratorium on for-profit developments. Apparently, some housing project in Barrington just went bankrupt, so the unspoken subtext among the commissioners was “Why are we being forced to build affordable housing if people don’t even need it?” To which Town Planner Ashley Hahn Morris pointed out that just because people can’t get financing to buy affordable housing doesn’t mean there’s no need for affordable rentals.
Then came the discussion of the big bad builders and their terrifying proposed legislation, H-5554 and S-533, that would allow them to pave over all of Charlestown. Unfortunately, the audio got really bad during this point of the discussion and it was hard to follow the proceedings over the droning hum of feedback. Suffice to say that these bills would destroy life as we know it and the commission wants to make sure our state legislators know that they need to do everything in their power to oppose them, should they ever come up in the General Assembly session. Which Gentz has it on good authority it will.
Lastly, the perennial issue of the dark-sky ordinance. One suggestion in response to Jay Primiano’s efforts to get lighted football fields built in Ninigret Park was to have the turf installed at the Washington County fairgrounds instead so the kids can keep playing there. Because nothing else goes on at the fairgrounds does it? It’s not as if thousands of cars park there for the fair or anything, right? And anyway, one commissioner wanted to know, why are we building football fields when football is about to be banned because of the risks of concussions?
The gist of the discussion was that they’re no longer planning to enforce the ordinance on residential properties, only on public and commercial properties. But according to Platner, the ordinance’s provisions are already being enforced on new commercial properties as part of site review and have been for 10 or 12 years (which begs the question, why do we even need the ordinance then). The haggling is apparently over how to bring existing businesses into compliance. Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero tossed out the 7-year grandfather idea and wants conformance to be triggered by applying for a new building permit, but Building Official Joe Warner balks at having to tell someone who’s, say, replacing windows that that means they have to change their lights too. He thinks the end result will be that people will just go commando and not apply for permits in the first place. I’d say he’s probably right about that.
|Dark skies provide cover for bears.|
Ruth also whined about how it only costs $15 to put a shade over an existing fixture (“Why are people thwarting me on this” being the unspoken subtext) and can’t understand why town hall doesn’t put the parking lot lights on motion sensors (“It would save money!”). To which Gentz replied what about bears? “They’d trigger the sensors,” she said. I’m so relieved to know I’ll be able to see the bear as it’s about to maul me rather than being taken completely by surprise.
So the truth is finally out: The dark sky ordinance is really all just for show. Ruth says we need to get it passed so Frosty Drew can use it as a stick to beat the surrounding towns over the head with to get them to pass ordinances too, because otherwise they’ll say “If Charlestown’s not doing it, why do we have to?” Except Hopkinton already has a dark-sky ordinance, which the current version of ours is modeled on. And round and round and round it goes. Aren’t you glad I spared you the trouble of having to sit through it all?