Selectmen in a special meeting yesterday voted unanimously to schedule a second Special Town Meeting to allow voters to hear the citizen’s petition designed to amend the town’s wind turbine bylaw. The session will be held Monday, May 9.
For Bourne residents, that means that this spring’s Annual and Special Town Meetings will convene, as usual, on Monday, May 2. Whether or not those meetings last two nights and are then continued to the following Monday, on May 9 at 7:30 PM, the town moderator will convene a Special Town Meeting whose purpose is solely to address the warrant article proposing changes to Bourne’s Wind Energy Conversion System bylaw.
Whether Town Meeting will be able to vote on the matter is still, selectmen said this week, at the discretion of the Bourne Planning Board.
Selectmen weighed in to set that Special Town Meeting after the planning board voted last Thursday to table and study the citizen-proposed changes to the wind turbine bylaw that had been heading to the May 2 Annual Town Meeting.
That move effectively blocked that proposal from being acted on. Under the zoning law, no bylaw change can be discussed and voted upon at Town Meeting without a report and recommendation by the planning board, so by tabling the issue, the planning board made it impossible for voters to consider the citizen’s article.
Town Administrator Thomas M. Guerino said Wednesday that he had proposed setting another Special Town Meeting (not, as previously reported, Selectman Jamie J. Sloniecki). Mr. Guerino told selectmen that if some 200 citizens want to discuss a matter at Town Meeting and follow all of the rules necessary for putting the petition on the warrant, they should have that opportunity.
Mr. Guerino made it clear that his actions were not a comment for, or against, the substance of the bylaw changes, but that he simply thought the citizens deserved to be involved in the process. He also said he thought the planning board’s actions might have been the result of a technical error.
At last Thursday’s meeting, before a vote on the citizen’s petition had been tabled, planning board Chairman Christopher J. Farrell had said some changes had been proposed as late as that afternoon. He went on to say that the board wanted to take the time necessary to study not just those recent changes, but the impacts of the proposed amendments as a whole. Town Planner Coreen V. Moore had said that there would be no place in Bourne where a commercial or utility-sized wind turbine could legally be placed under the citizen-proposed bylaw amendments.
Christopher G. Senie, the attorney for the group of residents proposing changes to the bylaw, asked board members to consider voting not to recommend the changes, which would have sent the issue to voters at Town Meeting.
The board members voted instead to continue studying the complex issues. Planning board member Peter J. Meier was the sole member who voted against the motion, saying he thought that the voters who put so much effort into creating the amendments had the right to have them discussed at Town Meeting.
After tabling the matter, board members discussed setting up a workshop to carefully go through the impacts of the proposed new provisions. They purposely did not close their hearing, but they also did not continue the meeting to a specific date.
The petitioners supporting the zoning bylaw article left that meeting visibly angry at the board, calling out, “Stonewall!” and “Joke” and commenting that they would remember members’ actions when they went to the polls.
Mr. Guerino said this week that he thought his proposal would give the planning board time to “cure” any technical problems they might have had with the way they continued their hearing.
The planning board has tentatively set a workshop session with consultant Philip B. Herr for 6 PM Wednesday at the Bourne Veterans Memorial Community Center. That board has also set a public hearing for 1 PM on Friday, May 6, in the lower conference room of town hall to reopen their hearing on the bylaw, as it had been deemed closed by dint of having failed to continue the matter “to a date certain.”
As a part of this Wednesday’s discussions, Selectmen Chairman John A. Ford Jr. told audience members that the planning board is an elected body, and that they have the right to vote as they see fit. When they meet May 6, the board could vote to make a report at the new May 9 Special Town Meeting, recommending either for or against the proposed wind turbine bylaw changes. They could also, Mr. Ford said, do exactly what they did before: table the matter for further study, if that is what they deem to be in the best interest of the town.
Selectman Sloniecki asked Town Clerk Barry H. Johnson, who was in the audience, if there was anything the selectmen could do procedurally to ensure that the article could be voted upon on May 9. Mr. Johnson shook his head.
If the planning board closes its May 6 hearing on that date, selectmen could, in that instance, wait the requisite 21 days specified in the law, and then call another special Town Meeting, but that would be at significant expense.
They might also, Mr. Ford said, call for a year’s moratorium on building permits for any wind turbine projects, allowing for adequate time for the planning board to study the impacts of the bylaw changes, bringing their recommendations back before a Fall Town Meeting.
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