BOURNE – The planning board took a stand last night against clerical errors.
Board members voted unanimously to seek an appeal of Bourne Building Inspector Roger Laporte’s decision to issue a building permit for a residential wind turbine sought by property owners Wendie and Francis Howland.
A clerical glitch that occurred following a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting in January paved the way for the Howlands to get the building permit for 245 Barlow’s Landing Road that the planning board is questioning.
The board also wants to use a lawyer other than Bourne Town Counsel Robert Troy to help them with the appeal after Troy advised board members that they didn’t have much legal ground to stand on, according to planning board member Peter Meier.
“It’s the opinion of this board that we do,” Meier said.
The emergency meeting last night was called to discuss taking steps to ensure such clerical mistakes never embarrass the town again, Meier said.
“We can’t just let it go,” planning board chairman Christopher Farrell said. “It has to do with process.”
But attorney Jon Fitch of Sandwich, who represented the Howlands last night, urged board members to put the past behind them.
“Learn from your mistakes and try not to repeat them,” Fitch said after the meeting.
In the coming days, the planning board will ask town officials for the services of a special counsel to make the appeal.
The Howlands had been trying to get approval for a variance to build their 120-foot, 10-kilowatt wind turbine for over a year. The couple were advised by the planning board to wait until a proposed bylaw regulating wind turbines passed the October 2006 town meeting. However, due to another clerical glitch, the bylaw never made it to the fall town warrant and had to be postponed until the May 2007 town meeting.
Without the bylaw, the only regulation on the books was a height restriction of 40 feet, according to Laporte. Wind turbines had to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
The Howlands went before the Zoning Board Of Appeals on Jan. 17 to request a variance from the height restriction so they could start their project.
Several planning board members at the hearing objected to granting the variance because they wanted to wait until the proposed bylaw passed town meeting. The Howlands withdrew their application without prejudice, and that withdrawal was approved in the minutes.
Meier, who attended that January hearing, said zoning board of appeals chairman Lee Berger had written up a decision in favor of the variance in advance of the meeting. When the application was withdrawn, however, a clerical error got that pre-written decision approved.
Wendie Howland confirmed that she withdrew the petition and awaited the results of town meeting – which ultimately passed the bylaw overwhelmingly.
In the meantime, the Howlands’ contractor received a signed, stamped variance approval in the mail, which the Howlands then had recorded by county officials in March. The contractor took engineering drawings to the building department for review on Oct. 1, and three weeks later the Howlands had the building permit in hand and were ready to start digging.
It was by accident that Meier found out that the Howlands’ turbine project was permitted and in progress. In town hall, he overheard the Howlands’ electrical contractor asking for clarification on the electrical permit. That was when he decided to call for an emergency planning board meeting.
At last night’s meeting, Pocasset resident Bob Martineau said he hated to see clerical errors treated lightly in town hall.
“I’m behind the board 100 percent,” he said.
By Mary Ann Bragg
18 December 2007