There may have only been one agenda item at the Mattapoisett Planning Board’s Aug. 19 meeting, but it helped to begin setting the seed on future development the town may see through its zoning bylaws.
For months, the board has had informal discussions on its antiquated bylaws and what needed to be done to refine some of them and eliminate others. Enter Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD). Comprehensive Planning Manager for SRPEDD Sandy Conaty joined the board Monday night to help steer them in the right direction of where to go with their current bylaws and what may need to be tweaked. Conaty said she looked at the town’s existing zoning bylaws as well as their five-year plan on priority, protection and development areas designated in town and any zoning bylaws related to that.
“What are the issues you see with the current zoning bylaws?” Conaty asked.
Mattapoisett Planning Board member Ron Merlo said he had concerns on how old the bylaws are and that his main intention was to technically clean them up, address administrative technicalities and in the end, make a document that was easier to utilize for everyone in town.
“There’s areas in town where you’d need to go to the ZBA for approval instead of the Planning Board and we feel these things should be going through the Planning Board first,” Merlo said, citing the cell phone tower construction in back of Turk’s as an example. Instead of the Planning Board, that proposal fell under the purview of the ZBA with the only thing the Planning Board was able to require for that proposal was a balloon test.
Conaty said she looked to other towns for what they had done in the past that helped them, using Dartmouth as one example of one town’s bylaw revamping that the town could follow.
“Each zoning district (in Dartmouth) has everything in it pertinent to that district. Anyone that comes into a business district, you can open up the business district and find all the requirements there,” Conaty said. “It’ll have permitted uses by right, variances by special permit – everything you need outlined; all you need is that section. It’s very user friendly.”
Planning Board member Karen Fields had concerns about comparing Dartmouth to Mattapoisett but Conaty said it wasn’t about comparing the two towns then it was modeling their bylaws on a more district-wide basis that made it easier for people to understand.
“It’s just a format,” Conaty said in regards to following what Dartmouth did.
Mattapoisett Planning Board member John Mathieu, the most vocal of the members to incite a need for change in the zoning bylaws, said its best for the board to take a look at what they have, what ones they want to change and the things they need to do to address those changes and look at the process of other towns.
Mathieu reminded the board of the recent solar panel array approvals, two of them off Tinkham Hill Road, and how there were no zoning bylaws to require any measures to the proposals.
“That one got by us,” Mathieu said of the solar arrays. “If there’s no place in town for these things, then there’s no place in town but we have to figure it all out.”
Merlo also brought up wind turbine construction potentials as well in creating or revising zoning bylaws related to that.
“We need to figure out how to squeeze all of this into a format that’s more user friendly,” Merlo said.
Conaty said that the board may also need to look at parking requirements and excess that may be needed for certain businesses where normal parking requirements may be fine but how their business may increase at a certain time of year where more spaces would be needed.
“There may be a company that uses 10 parking spaces but there may be a time of year where they require 20 spaces. (Through the zoning bylaw requirements) They could build 10 spaces then have another 10 spaces that are not impervious surfaces, maybe just gravel,” Conaty said. “It could just be a specifically dedicated parking area.”
Fields mentioned putting something in place about the current pet problem in town, dogs (feces) actually and pretty controversial at that, but no one on the board wanted to touch that at this time.
Merlo said that the board can banter back and forth about their recommendations for years, but in the end, they would have to bring those changes to the Town Meeting floor to see if residents were for it or against it.
“We have some areas of Route 6 (that could be developed for business) but how can we do it? It has to be controlled,” Merlo said. “We want to make this so we understand what can be allowed and what can’t. I know my taxes haven’t gone down for many years so obviously we need to think of ways to help (the tax base).”
But there was concern among the board about what kind of participation or input they may get from residents. Merlo mentioned an ongoing Open Space Survey, which asked residents what they would like to see done with open space in the town, and since its inception more than a month ago, only 60 people have filled out the online survey (on the main page of the town’s website), five from the board sitting at the table right then.
“That’s pitiful,” Mattapoisett Planning Board Chairman Tom Tucker said of the survey respondents.
Tucker asked Conaty if she could come back for the board’s Sept. 16 meeting, where they would begin to put the framework together to change some of the town’s zoning bylaws.
Conaty made sure to clarify that they are not creating new bylaws rather they are adding or tweaking to existing ones.
“I think we should have a general public hearing to talk about this and then get into specifics at each meeting,” Tucker said. “Like a syllabus meeting.”
Conaty said there is grant money available under a former Southcoast Rail technical assistance grant that can be used to help the reformatting of the town’s bylaws. That grant money expires Dec. 31.
“I think this is a way for the town and SRPEDD to show what we want to present to residents at the Town Meeting,” Tucker said.
“The goal here is to present these at the May Town Meeting,” Mathieu added. “We need to remember that we can’t resolve the present but we can continue to move forward.”
Conaty said there may be more funds available next year if the town needs added assistance.
The board plans to utilize the Sept. 16 meeting, its next one due to Labor Day, to set the ball rolling on the zoning bylaw changes to come.
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