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Profile | Planning Board
Setting the character of our town
The Planning Board is in charge of development projects in the town. They ensure everyone is playing by the same set of rules, whether they are a small business owner or a multi-million dollar corporation.
Some responsibilities of the Planning Board:
Make recommendations to Town Meeting regarding changes to the zoning bylaws
Zoning bylaws determine what kind of activity is allowed to go on in different areas of our town, and they often need to be amended in order for a project to take place. After holding a public hearing regarding the rationale for the change and its impact on the town, the Planning Board votes to recommend or not recommend the change. If the article continues through to Town Meeting, a 2/3 vote is needed in order to change the zoning bylaw in question.
Approve special permits
Our zoning bylaws allow for certain kinds of businesses to be in a particular zone by right – meaning, if you buy/lease the property and want to put a “by right” business in, you can do that without additional approvals. Some kinds of businesses, though, are only allowed by special permit. In this case, you’re allowed to establish your business only if the Planning Board approves a special permit.
Approve site plans for projects
I don’t have anything specific to say about site plans, because this is pretty self-explanatory, so let’s run through the process for a moment.
Say you’re considering purchasing a vacant business and you want to build a condo development there. Prior to purchasing that business, you might engage the Planning office staff to see what would be necessary in order to get that project from concept to completion. They can also give you an idea of whether you’re likely to get the zoning bylaw changes and special permits you need in order to do this.
Once you’ve purchased the property, you’ll need to appeal for a zoning bylaw change. You’ll do this through an open public meeting at the Planning Board, in which the Zoning Bylaw Review Committee (from Town Meeting – remember them?) will participate. Your hearing might last one evening (uncommon) or might last several meetings – months, even. The Board might request additional information or studies from you, or you might decide it’s not looking favorably for you, so you need to regroup and change your approach.
At the end of that process, the Planning Board (and the Zoning Bylaw Review Committee) will vote to either recommend or not recommend that bylaw change to Town Meeting. Then the article will go to Town Meeting, where it will need a 2/3 vote.
Let’s assume your change is approved. You’ll then need to submit a site plan to the Planning Board (and a request for a special permit if required) and go through that process once more. Once the decision is rendered, you’ll do all the things required in the decision and then move forward with your project.
How does the Planning Board make sure you’re complying with all the requirements laid out in that decision? Good question – right now, the building inspector, board of health, and engineering office do some compliance checks, as do the Planning Board staff.
There are 7 Board members, who serve 5-year terms. The long term is because there is a steep learning curve and a requirement to have knowledge in a lot of different areas – conservation, geography, zoning bylaws, and more I’m sure I’m forgetting.
There is also a professional staff of 4 right now – a director, a senior planner, a junior planner, and an administrative assistant. These professionals serve as liaisons between the proponent/applicant and the planning board, and can advise on matters in which their professional training gives them deep knowledge. They will also interface with the attorneys (for bigger corporations) and the business owners (for smaller businesses) and support them through the application process.
The Planning Board works for you, so please feel free to call the office anytime with questions!
Phew! That was a long one – but I hope it gave you some insight into how planning works in our town.
Thanks so much to Barbara Limoncelli L'Heureux for your help with this one!