Rochester Planning Board members were once again accused of favoritism regarding their review of a Definitive Subdivision Plan known as Longbow Lane filed by Planning Board member Ben Bailey, who had recused himself from the proceedings.
Represented by Bill Madden of G.A.F. Engineering Inc., the Gerrish Road project would feature a single residential structure at the end of a greater than 500-foot roadway. After minutes of detailed discussions on such matters as waivers and easements, the latter of which were confirmed as being recorded correctly by Town Counsel Blair Bailey, the discussion was opened to public comment.
Abutter Coleman Lalli, 16 Bishop Road, questioned why the board would grant a waiver allowing a dead-end road of 500 feet or more. Lalli believed that the board’s rules and regulations firmly noted such distance was not allowed.
Town Counsel Blair Bailey said that the rule could be waived, and that rules and regulations were in place as guidelines, oftentimes appealed by applicants in the form of waivers better suited to specific projects. He also noted that the 500-foot rule was in place because, years ago, the maximum length of a fire hose was 500 feet.
Lalli argued that easements on the site plan were incorrect. Debra Lalli also spoke up, saying she worked in the Assessors’ Office and that the posted lot number listed as 27-F is actually 27-B and questioned the legality of the filing.
Coleman Lalli then accused the Planning Board members of favoritism.
Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson took umbrage to the accusation. “We treat everyone the same. This is a small town; you run into board members on projects. This plan has been revised six times! … To sit there and allege this is slanderous,” Johnson shot back. “You have to be careful what you say.”
Johnson continued, pointing out that comments were being recorded, comments that could damage people on the board. Of the incorrect publication of the lot number, Johnson said abutters were properly notified but conceded that the mistake needs correction.
In a strange twist, a participant in the remote-access meeting room announced he wanted to speak but refused to give his name and address. After clarification that such public dialog is in line with public meeting rules, a man displaying the label “concerned citizen” said, “I see a lot of good people using good faith effort but clearly showing favoritism – clear favoritism.”
Blair Bailey, town counsel, said that in the 20 years he has been associated with the town’s business, no other project had been as heavily scrutinized.
When all was said and done, the Planning Board allowed Ben Bailey to withdraw his application without prejudice, granting him the opportunity to make the lot number correction. All documentation produced thus far for the project would presumably be re-entered, and the applicant would refile the application.
Spirits were still running high later in the meeting when Brian Wallace of JC Engineering came before the board remotely to discuss the current status of construction taking place on a multi-unit residential subdivision at Plumb Corner.
Wallace started by saying that roadway work would start soon, that water lines had been completed, and that drainage systems would be starting. He assured the board that a November deadline for completing all roadways was holding, but he also mentioned that some drainage units were on backorder and that wet spring conditions were a hinderance.
Johnson, however, was not pleased. “What about these violations to the hours of work?” the chairman asked. Wallace said it was a simple miscommunication with some subcontractors and that it had been addressed, but Johnson responded, “At 7:05 there were still trade vans at the site; you are the ones responsible for making sure of things.” He voiced concern that there was not adequate on-site supervision and that the hours of work are firm with everything to be shut down and off-site on time. “I’m putting you on notice that the board will take punitive action,” Johnson told Wallace.
Wallace then broached the matter of monies being held back for materials purchased and work completed, monies that he believed should be returned as written in the tri-party agreement. But Johnson said documents had not proven that the materials had in fact been purchased. “That surety is for if something happens and the town has to put the project out to bid,” he stated. Wallace countered that the agreement states the cash will be returned incrementally.
Blair Bailey said the list received from the lenders was incorrect. “We need to see what’s been done; what’s the number for what’s been completed?” he asked Wallace. “To be brutally honest, the impression we have is that you have placed emphasis on the units getting them done for marketing. Our point is we need enough money in case something happens.”
It was determined that Wallace and his team would discuss the matter with the town’s peer review consultant Field Engineering and produce details for the Planning Board’s review.
The atmosphere of frustration prevailed almost to the end of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting when the topic of illegal cutting by the Buzzards Bay Coalition was addressed.
Johnson said that a Marion Road property purchased by the organization has had unpermitted vegetation and tree cutting done along the scenic roadway. The board members found it ironic that an environmental agency would engage in unpermitted activities and not respond to requests to come forward and explain.
“Apparently, they think they can come into Rochester and do what they please.… They think the rules don’t apply to them,” Johnson stated.
Ben Bailey said he had visited the location in question and found that 55 trees of about a 10-inch caliper had been removed. He estimated it would cost tens of thousands to dollars to replace them. Blair Bailey said a formal request to meet with the board should be sent via certified mail. All members agreed.
In other business, Snipatuit Road Solar, represented by Eric Las of Beals and Thomas, met with the board to discuss final waiver requests. Site plan changes that include the construction of a timber bridge to cross a stream were favorably viewed by the board members. Johnson said that the board was close to the end of its review of the project, which was continued to July 27.
The next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board is scheduled for Tuesday, July 27, at 7:00 pm.
Rochester Planning Board
By Marilou Newell