Johnson Stands Up for Board’s Integrity

            Having recused himself from participation, Rochester Planning Board member Bendrix Bailey planned on sitting quietly throughout his May 25 public hearing that was continued from May 11, in which he seeks what representative Brian Grady of G.A.F. Engineering called “a number of waivers” from the rules and regulations of the board for Bailey’s application for a Form C Definitive Subdivision Plan titled “Longbow Lane” at 34 Gerrish Road.

            But after substantial discussion that peaked when the board’s integrity was challenged by an abutter drawing a vehement rebuke by Chairman Arnie Johnson, Bailey felt compelled to step away from his seat to address the meeting as a citizen, speak plainly to attendees as to his intentions for the project, and respond to comments.

            “When I sell the lot, I sell the restrictions,” he said, giving a hypothetical. “Just so you know, I’m not going anywhere, that’s my home.”

            The hearing became heated when abutter Mike Silva, 18 Bishop Road, augmented his request that the Planning Board visit his property to get a better look at how his view will change by suggesting that, because Bailey is a board member, an approval is essentially a done deal.

            “We’re not engaged in the personality business,” answered Johnson. “If you’ve got an engineering opinion or a screening opinion, we’ll look at it. All this other crap … is not a concern of the Planning Board. We try to work with everybody.”

            Citing his 22 years on the board, Johnson stated, “I’ve never approved a project without modifying it.

            “Don’t ever come in here and say something’s in the bag because I’ll throw you right out of here, and it’s my legal right to do that. Do you understand?” he asked Silva. “It’s a yes or no (answer)…. Sit down, you’re done.”

            Johnson fumed over the suggestion that the board operates outside of its parameters and cited cases in which he was disappointed in the outcome but was bound to uphold the mission of the board resulting in approvals.

            In this case, Grady summarized the property as 9 acres including 4 acres of uplands and a project he called “a glorified driveway” estimated to be 728 feet in length for access for a single-family home.

            One waiver is for the 500-foot limit that, according to Town Counsel Blair Bailey (no relation to Bendrix Bailey), stems from public safety concerns. If a road is too long, then houses can be cut off from emergency vehicles.

            Johnson said he asked Blair Bailey early in the process if the lot can ever be subdivided again, and the answer was it can only be one house so the road, if approved, would amount to a long driveway.

            Citing the minimum frontage requirement, Blair Bailey further stated that there is no chance that another house could go back there. “It wouldn’t fit,” he said, adding in answer to a resident attending the meeting that there is also no chance that the town would assume the cost of maintaining the road.

            Johnson explained the built-in mechanisms to waive rules and regulations in order to recognize small situations faced by property owners that would otherwise be hogtied by regulations written with much larger properties in mind.

            Going outside the parameters of the Planning Board, said Johnson, would cost Blair Bailey precious time as town counsel.

            Alluding to Silva’s request, Johnson stated for the benefit of all abutters that site visits only invite the applicants, consultants, Planning Board members and staff, and public safety officials unless permission is obtained from the property owner. Nonetheless, he told abutters that the board is willing to visit their properties to get their view.

            Blair Bailey clarified that while the Town of Rochester tries to minimize the extent to what they try to tell people what they can do on their own property, one’s view of another’s property cannot be protected. While, for instance, a business might be asked to screen itself from abutting residents with the planting or preservation of trees, an abutter cannot ask the government to maintain their view onto neighboring properties.

            “We’re the government, we have to have a reason to regulate,” he said. “Preserving someone’s view is not something we can regulate to somebody on their land.”

            The Planning Board will conduct a site visit on Tuesday, June 8, at 6:00 pm, and the case was continued to June 8.

            Tuesday night’s hybrid setup used the Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School library as a home base with remote access via Zoom.

            In a public hearing continued from April 27, Eric Las represented Cushman Solar, LLC in its application for a Special Permit for Groundwater Protection at its 0 Cushman Road site. The 3.9-megawatt solar array is proposed within a residential/agricultural district including a horse farm.

            The Cushman Road property, also within the Mattapoisett River Valley Watershed and partially within the Groundwater Protection District and the Floodplain Overlay District, is owned by Lisa Holden, trustee.

            Referring to a site walk with the Planning Board, Las said he heard commentary from abutters and peer review consultant Ken Motta. He said one of the big focuses on this project tried to address traffic.

            Johnson’s comments requesting more detail in the way of logistics for access and doing the work so disruption can be realistically assessed was applauded by engineer Dave Davignon, who was representing abutters with those exact concerns.

            The case was continued to June 8.

            In a case continued from May 11, Las also appeared before the board on behalf of Snipatuit Solar, LLC, which applied for a Special Permit for Groundwater Protection on the site of a proposed, 4.8-megawatt solar array at 0 Snipatuit Road. He requested further continuance to June 8.

            In other business, the board voted to approved William Clapp’s application for an Approval Not Required for property located at 52 Clapp Road. The project, already vetted by the Conservation Commission, will create two additional lots for a total of three at the site of an existing single-family house, and the garage on the site will be razed to comply with setback requirements.

            Planning Board member Gary Florindo, who did not run for reelection, is stepping down after 17 years of service. “Very common-sense guy, always put the time in, a lot of research. He’ll be missed. Still going to talk to him probably every day,” said Johnson.

            In a board reorganization, member John DeMaggio was appointed as vice chairman, replacing Florindo. DeMaggio now has the second longest tenure on the board.

            Johnson also recognized Marissa Perez-Dormitzer, who is leaving Planning Board administration. Victoria D’Antoni will join the board as administrator.

            The next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board is scheduled for Tuesday, June 8, at 7:00 pm at Old Colony and via Zoom.

Rochester Planning Board

By Mick Colageo

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