At the top of their agenda on July 19, the Marion Zoning Board of Appeals took up an Open Meeting Law complaint filed by Jean Perry on behalf of The Wandererduring an executive session.
The complaint stemmed from a June 28 public hearing regarding 324 Front Street during which Perry witnessed and called attention to a private and hushed conversation between ZBA Chairman Marc Leblanc and Town Counsel Barbara Huggins Carboni during appellant Peter Douglas’ presentation during open session.
Before calling the meeting to order on July 19, Carboni assembled with Leblanc, Kate Mahoney, and Tad Wollenhaupt, as well as ZBA Administrative Assistant Annita Donovan, and spoke quietly with Leblanc with her back to the audience. Douglas, who was present at the Town House for the meeting, called out loudly to Carboni, suggesting that there was a quorum present and therefore they were deliberating while the public could not hear them.
Carboni turned to the audience and stated that she was not deliberating and would respond to any questions momentarily. Wollenhaupt asserted that he wasn’t listening to the conversation, and Mahoney stated that she was reading on her iPad.
When Carboni sat at the table and addressed Douglas, he repeated his concern that, presumably with a quorum present, she should not be speaking quietly with the board, and told her to “Look it up!” Carboni was visibly taken aback by Douglas’ statement, and Douglass repeated, more politely, “You may look it up.”
The board spent approximately 10 minutes in executive session this evening, during which time the banter among the audience members centered on the board’s recent performance. Douglas was visibly frustrated with the drawn-out manner in which the board discusses the issues pertaining to his case back on July 12.
While still waiting for open session to reconvene, one resident in attendance asked aloud what it costs the Town to have the town counsel at the ZBA meetings, to which Douglas added, “How much will it cost [the Town] when I bring litigation [appealing the ZBA’s decision] … – totally unnecessary!”
The board returned to open session without comment on their executive session, at which time Carboni presented the board with a draft decision for Douglas’ appeal of the building commissioner’s denial of zoning enforcement at 324 Front Street, which in a 3-2 vote on July 12 upheld the building commissioner’s denial. After a short discussion and some edits, the board unanimously approved the written decision and authorized town counsel to finalize it and file it with the town clerk.
Leblanc then began the discussion for case #750 brought by Constance Dolan who is seeking a variance, by stating, “I don’t see hardship.”
Wollenhaupt, after looking up on his phone the three criteria for determining the merits of a variance, methodically reviewed the list with his fellow board members. The board did not feel Dolan met all the criteria and voted unanimously to deny the variance.
“Variances are extremely hard [to get],” said LeBlanc. “I don’t think we’ve granted one since I’ve been here.”
The board then deliberated case #751 brought by Teeracai Srisirikul of 362 Front Street, seeking a Special Permit to convert existing commercial use to residential use in an area zoned for mixed use. At a previous hearing, the board continued the issue seeking bylaw clarification from town counsel. This evening, Carboni stated, “I don’t know if you can convert the use … where [the by-laws] allow you to change the use from General Business to Residential.”
The issue was tabled to give town counsel time to look into it, and the board reviewed case #753 in the meantime.
This case, brought by Tim Harding for Evelyn Crocker at 47 Main Street, was for a Special Permit to add a one-story addition to a house. Wollenhaupt described the 6-foot by 10-foot 2-inch structure as “squaring up the house.” The board approved it.
The board also approved the permit request by the Kristina Tomlinson Revocable Trust at 12 Main Street for an existing accessory use.
The board returned to the Srisirikul case, with Carboni suggesting that there was a request to change zoning, saying, “I don’t see a bylaw to change from General Business to Residential.” She wanted to seek input from Building Commissioner Scott Shippey as the zoning enforcement officer.
A resident in attendance requested to speak, but the board told them the case was closed to public comment and directed them to speak with Shippey. There was clear frustration from residents in attendance regarding this decision, with one saying, “This is an area of mixed-use zoning. We are not changing zoning, just changing use!” The case was continued.
The next meeting of the Marion Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled for July 26 at 7:30 pm in the Marion Town House.
Marion Zoning Board of Appeals
By Sarah French Storer