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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Planning Commission meets tonight

Bring a pillow
By Will Collette

The Charlestown Planning Commission meets tonight for yet another of its marathon sessions.

The agenda contains three development proposals that will no doubt get the patented Platner Planning Commission run-around, regardless of their merits.

One of them is an on-going proposal from the Botka family, who frequently appear before Planning. There is no love lost between them.

The Planning Commission, following its usual practice, has a long list of its Top Ten hot-button issues listed, though many of these are simply place-holders. They appear on the agenda so that if Platner and her Planning Police feel moved to discuss them, they’ve at least minimally complied with the state Open Meetings Act.

Among those items, three of them have documents attached, although documents do not offer you much insight about what will actually be discussed.

Actually, in one instance, an attached memo makes it pretty confusing to figure out what’s really on the agenda. There’s a listing for “LMIH (Low and Moderate Income Housing) Analysis” but attached to it is a memo on the town’s dark-sky lighting ordinance.

If they’re going to talk about affordable housing, there is no supporting document.

If they want to talk about the lighting ordinance, the item is improperly posted and could end up being an Open Meetings Act violation. Indeed, the lighting ordinance isn't even listed.

Let’s assume they plan to talk about lighting, since that’s what the attached document is about. The document is a memo from Town Planner Ashley Hahn-Morris that describes the result of her survey of town commercial sites that have exemplary, dark-sky friendly, outside lighting.

Ashley’s memo shows that none of these sites would comply with the 15 foot limit set in the town’s current lighting ordinance. All of them are taller than 15 feet and some are much closer to 20 feet, yet all are considered to be fine examples of dark-sky friendly lighting.

What makes this agenda item all the more peculiar – aside from the erroneous way it is posted on Clerkbase – is that this memo has been presented and discussed by Planning already.

Plus, the Planning Commission has already sent a proposed ordinance to the Town Council that revises the height limits in the existing ordinance.

And plus, the Town Council voted on Monday, August 20, to authorize the advertising of the ordinance and a public hearing on it at the September Town Council meeting.

Here is the key part of what that ordinance would say about height limits for commercial sites:

Now, bear in mind that Platner and her Planners have no scientific basis for setting the 15 foot height limit – they simply copied it from Hopkinton’s ordinance. And according to Ashley’s memo, we already have excellent examples of dark-sky friendly lighting here in town that exceed 15 feet.

So why would Platner and her Planners want to impose additional costs on town businesses to come up with scientific proof that they – the Planners – haven’t got to support their height limitation? Because they can!

Chalk this one up as yet another example of Platner’s and the CCA’s hostility toward town business.

I suppose the Planning Commission needs to discuss this issue tonight so they can get their stories straight for September’s public hearing. It’s called defending the indefensible.

Trust me!
Also on tonight’s again is another oddly moot item: the Comprehensive Plan Update. This was discussed by the Planning Commission in July. At that meeting, Commissar Platner expressed her interest in simply writing a brand-new Comprehensive Plan, apparently by herself which is the only way it could get done before our current plan expires in April 2013.

Platner was so blasé about doing a brand-new plan that normally docile Town Council liaison, Tom Gentz, was clearly alarmed that it would create a political firestorm (i.e. that Platner would cut corners on involving a broad segment of the community in the process).

The attached memo – which has already been presented to the Town Council – also comes from Town Planner Ashley Hahn-Morris and says that Statewide Planning, the agency that will ultimately approve or reject Charlestown’s Plan thinks that writing a new Plan by April is a very bad idea. They suggest Charlestown do an update to their last update and then commence with a full-plan process to develop a new plan.

I am not sure what’s left to discuss unless Platner has some idea about the Planning Commission going rogue and ignoring Statewide Planning and the Town Council. It wouldn’t surprise me very much, since Platner has long acted as if she is the most powerful person in Charlestown and above such petty considerations.

Finally, there will be discussion about a proposal by Planning to tighten up on-site waste water treatment rules. Just when DEM has finally given Charlestown what Charlestown has long requested – some relief and flexibility from state septic system rules that have forced many homeowners to buy $30,000 treatment systems – the Planning Commission seems to want to go in the opposite direction.

There is an attached document that appears to be an internal dialogue among various parties to this debate. I am not one of them, so I lack the background or context to decipher this document.

Ruth Platner is running for re-election in November. She has been on the Planning Commission since 1997 – that’s almost 16 years – and has been in total charge of the Commission for two full terms.

If she gets re-elected, that would extend her time in office, and the burdens she has placed on Charlestown, to a total of 22 years.  For me, my slogan is “NO More years!”