Rebuilt Zoning Bylaw, Master Plan in the Works

            Presentation is an important piece in achieving dialogue with town residents that are dealing with their own building issues and also the big picture of where Mattapoisett is heading.

            To that end, two guests dominated Tuesday night’s remote access meeting of the Planning Board: consultant Judi Barrett and Grant King of the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD).

            Barrett was brought in to advise the board on how to shape up its zoning bylaw to meet modern needs, and what she offered in terms of advice was much less about the content of the bylaw and much more about its structure and presentation.

            The recommended change would seem drastic but, under deeper study, remains true to what Mattapoisett has in its current version. The goal is to strip it down of the many voices that have layers on top of layers to the point that it has become hard to digest. The planned shakedown is also intended to identify and remove little contradictions.

            It’s a redesign more than a reinvention.

            Referencing the Master Plan, Barrett said, “If you try to add those really cool ideas to a bylaw that has structural problems, you can end up with problems.”

            The more productive sequence, she said, is to “get the bylaw in good shape” and toward something that “would make it clear, easy to follow, up to date in case law…”

            Barrett advised the board to convert the bylaw from a pyramid code to a table of uses, the outcome being something that will “allow you to not repeat things. Repetition is the worst thing in bylaw code.”

            Expect to see a single table of uses, with an updating of use regulations up to current standards.

            Barrett said she does “a lot of zoning” and is therefore attentive to language that may be familiar to a “zoning geek” with institutional knowledge but unfamiliar to those “reading it for the first time.”

            “That’s the way (the people) read a bylaw,” she said.

            Highly theoretical advice drew out the question from Town Administrator Mike Lorenco of what town(s) would be a good example to follow.

            “You’re going to hate this answer,” said Barrett, who never advises because of every town’s different voices, language, and nuances. She insists that Mattapoisett can tackle this by deconstructing its own bylaw and reconstruct it more intuitively to outsiders, to say everything once and build out from there. And include an index.

            Barrett called it “a two-phase process” and “a fairly large undertaking,” one that will require an amendment needing the vote at Town Meeting. Substantive changes are discouraged unless it’s a legal issue. Then present it at Town Meeting with an explanation of the changes to existing language and why the changes are being made.

            During the quieter season forced on town employees by the coronavirus pandemic, Mary Crain said she has been attempting to reorganize the bylaw in keeping with Barrett’s advice based on prior conversations.

            Board member Nathan Ketchel asked if the incorporation of Master Plan changes will amount to a second reconstruction. “I doubt that. I think what you’re going to have is a Version 2 that is easy to amend,” said Barrett. “You want to have a bylaw that’s very easy to slip those things in.”

            Board member Janice Robbins noted the districts, codifications, and activism on the part of some townspeople, suggesting this may not be as easy as it sounds in theory. “We have public hearings and nobody shows up at the public hearings and feel they want to talk at Town Meeting,” she said.

            Crain hopes to share a completed effort with the Planning Board, anticipating it will require work through the fall and, “if things get back to normal, maybe having it ready sometime in the spring.” Along the way, Crain will share her progress with the board.

            Lorenco indicated that Mattapoisett will need to host a Town Meeting by September because the state allows towns to operate on a one-twelfth budget for three months. Where the state is at with its budget and ability to support towns is information not expected until sometime in August. Mattapoisett anticipates an abbreviated Town Meeting, then another when more information becomes available.

            King expects in early July to have a website up and running where Mattapoisett residents can access information about the town’s Master Plan.

            The website will explain the Master Plan, educate as to priorities and strategies regarding the first phase of the town’s planned zoning bylaw update. The site will be interactive and include a press release with additional information, graphics, contacts, a video presentation, and a place for comments and concerns.

            An introductory workshop and interactive mapping exercises will be featured in a 14-day, rolling online event with two Zoom meetings, and the town will solicit key input from residents. King is working on a dry run with Raynham scheduled for August and hoping Mattapoisett will be ready in September.

            The Master Plan timeline is generally 12-24 months depending on how fast the community progresses. The coronavirus pandemic probably brings that timeline more toward 18 months. King also plans a literature review page for the new website.

            Planning Board Chairman Tom Tucker said he would like to see the website presented in July while summer residents are in town.

            King suggested a Master Plan committee including various members of different boards and committees numbering between nine and 11.

            “Taxpayers deserve to have a voice at the table,” said Tucker.

            In other business, the Planning Board touched on its timeline to prepare for the next step in dealing with zoning bylaws. They discussed a potential fee structure of $500-$750 to review a large-scale solar installation and seek input and comments before holding a public hearing later in the summer.

            The next meeting of the Planning Board is scheduled for July 6 and will be posted at

Mattapoisett Planning Board

By Mick Colageo

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