The Marion Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) really doesn’t want to televise its meetings, and on May 2, despite the Board of Selectmen’s insistence on it, continued searching for viable excuses to support keeping meetings as they are – as they historically have been, the chairman pointed out – untelevised.
“The selectmen are still pushing the envelope with us,” said ZBA Chairman Marc LeBlanc as he opened the conversation Thursday night. “The concern (of the selectmen) is that the public is not getting appropriate information … – Actually, I’m not 100 percent sure of what their concern is.”
“Transparency, and our meetings being consistent,” said ZBA member Michelle Smith, which she argued are already consistent and properly posted.
“If people have an interest in seeing it and being here, they’d be here to watch it,” said ZBA member Tad Wollenhaupt.
The board wondered how the reason behind televising meetings could be consistency when other meetings of other Town boards aren’t, such as the Board of Assessors and Board of Health.
According to LeBlanc, he invited the selectmen to attend the ZBA meeting that night, but they declined. Instead, they asked LeBlanc to attend the Board of Selectmen meeting on May 7.
“I’m looking for people to go with me,” said LeBlanc. “I don’t think a three-against-one is fair.”
Wollenhaupt volunteered first saying, “I’m willing to go to tell them – because I don’t want to go to a televised meeting.” He recalled prior ZBA meetings when the board discussed the reasons why they oppose televising, saying, “We didn’t sign up to be on a televised board.”
What is lacking, Wollenhaupt said, is an “open discussion” with the Board of Selectmen, and the ZBA should be more persuasive in its argument.
“To say our meetings are regular; they are advertised; they are open to anybody,” Wollenhaupt stated.
Smith compared the ZBA’s consistent meeting schedule to “other boards” that often hold special meetings on different times on different days of the week, meetings she referred to as “secret squirrel.”
“Those secret meetings … aren’t televised,” Smith said. “If you’re gonna be consistent …”
ZBA associate member Louise Nadler said, what the ZBA needs is “to come back with a specific compelling reason, period.”
“I taught persuasive writing and I stress that it’s important not to say too much,” said Nadler, arguing against criticizing another board to make their point.
“There’s nothing anywhere that says these meetings need to be televised,” said LeBlanc, “and now it’s gonna be a tug of war between the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Board of Selectmen.” He said that even town counsel was unable to find anything that would compel the ZBA to televise.
So, what can the selectmen do if the ZBA refuses, the board pondered?
“They cannot fire us, but they can [decide to] not renew our reappointments,” said LeBlanc. “If they wanted to, they could remove people from this board and put on people that they want to.”
“We’re a voluntary board,” said Wolenhaupt. “We’re volunteers.”
“I think that’s a very valid reason (not to televise),” said ZBA member David Bramley. “It’s not an elected board.”
So, why should the ZBA televise, “Because everybody else is doing it?” asked LeBlanc.
“It’s a ‘because we said so,’” said LeBlanc. “It’s a ‘because we said so.’”
Also during the meeting, the board opened the public hearing for Elizabeth Houghton Weinberg’s application to renovate a non-conforming two-story Cape Cod style house at 14 Main Street, built in 1790 according to the Assessors’ records. An accessory building in the rear that is also non-conforming was identified as “the old schoolhouse,” built in 1815.
Weinberg wants to tear down the rear wing of the building and increase the footprint slightly, and raise the roof height of the front portion of the house.
Some neighbors came to view the plans, finding no major concerns other than Sandra Parsons, whose concern was for the preservation of a historical mural inside the dining room.
“Unfortunately, that has nothing to do with us,” LeBlanc stated. “Unfortunately, in this town there is nothing you can do about it.”
My mom lived in that house, and that’s how I know about,” said Parsons. “It should be photographed.”
The hearing was continued until May 16 so that Davignon could provide the board with the exact locations of the air-conditioning unit and the outdoor shower.
Also during the meeting, the board continued the public hearing for Theresa and Samuel Barrington, 37 Holmes Street, in the hopes that the applicants will reconsider shifting the location of their proposed “guesthouse” to meet zoning setbacks instead of razing an existing non-compliant shed and rebuilding it slightly larger than the original footprint.
The plan is to rebuild the structure with a bedroom, living room, and bathroom.
Abutter Kevin Oliveria worried about the size and proximity to his yard and water runoff into an already wet corner. He said he would prefer the Barringtons move it farther away, which the ZBA determined would be possible, given the size of the Barringtons’ property.
The board urged the Barringtons’ engineer, Dave Davignon, to ask the building commissioner what the owners’ by-right setbacks would be and go from there.
The board accepted the withdrawal request from Jessica and John Peters, 20 South Street, for a special permit for side and rear setbacks. According to architect Anthi Frangiadis, the property owners have decided to work within the parameters of what they are allowed by right. The application was withdrawn without prejudice.
In other business, the board entertained the letter of interest submitted by Margie Baldwin seeking to be appointed as an alternate member.
Alternate members are allowed to deliberate and discuss, but may not vote unless they are appointed to vote to complete a quorum.
ZBA member Betsy Dunn, in a letter she submitted in her absence, recommended Baldwin be appointed, while two others submitted letters of interest in joining the ZBA to LeBlanc.
The Board of Selectmen will make the final appointment, but may consider the ZBA’s recommendation.
Before Baldwin left, Bramley, who was just promoted to full member status that night, said to her, “I hope you don’t think we are closed-minded people.” Bramley was referring to something Baldwin wrote in her letter referring to the board’s need for “open-minded” members.
Baldwin assured Bramley that she was not inferring anyone was closed-minded. He also asked her if she sat on any other boards or committee that might conflict with her schedule.
Baldwin does serve on the Finance Committee and the Tree committee, but stated that her schedule would not be an issue.
“I don’t have an agenda,” said Baldwin. “I don’t have any vested interest – I think I’ve come before the board once.”
LeBlanc was personally surprised that the board received three letters, which he said was rather rare. Baldwin said perhaps the interest was due to the increasing complexity of the applications residents are filing with the ZBA.
“What’s happening,” LeBlanc said, “is the public is getting more savvy and they’re finding that with more cases before us and finding us voting in new ways (different than prior boards). There are a lot of loopholes in our bylaws and they’re trying to find those loopholes to do what they want, and that’s what we’re finding.”
The next meeting of the Marion Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled for May 16 at 6:30 pm at the Marion Town House.
Marion Zoning Board of Appeals
By Jean Perry