The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 6, 2008

Planning Board hires lawyer to review bylaws and regulations

Michael Abend, Chair of the Planning Board, appeared at the Selectmen’s meeting May 27 to present a plan for a review of Carlisle’s land development bylaws and regulations, “most of which have not been updated in over a decade.” The board had voted to hire a lawyer, Jonathan Witten, who is versed in property law and 40B regulations. It is hoped other boards such as the Conservation Commission, Board of Health, and Zoning Board of Appeals will also allow review of their regulations and bylaws “to make sure things are aligned and working together.” The contract proposed is for $180 per hour not to exceed $9,500. Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie noted that review of town regulations is included under the current Town Counsel retainer but the Planning Board chose to go with a specialist.

Abend said Comprehensive Permit regulations will be a focus of the review. A 40B Working Group has made some proposals, but new regulations put in place by the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) in February have made it tougher for towns to restrict what a 40B developer can do. The Planning Board’s Greg Peterson noted that protecting ground water will now be more difficult. “The new regulations say you can’t use density, frontage, or lack of a public water supply.” He said Witten will be asked to propose “common rules and regulations we ought to have in place in order to best protect the town.” The regulations “will apply in an even-handed manner to a number of types of developments.”

Doug Stevenson noted, “There’s an awful lot to do here, and $9,500 doesn’t go far.” He suggested delineating areas of particular focus. He also suggested looking at streamlining the process for permitting “for things we want to have happen in town.” He pointed to cluster zoning as a success story: “Since 1997 (when the regulation was changed) there has been one subdivision and the rest are conservation clusters.” He wondered if incentives could be put in place to encourage Local Initiative Permits (LIPs) where a developer works with the town on affordable housing.

Abend said Witten is already familiar with town laws as he was retained during the Coventry Woods lawsuit and that he will concentrate on subdivision law and 40B. The Planning Board is trying to keep within their budget with the $9,500 limit and may be able to devote another $10,000 if necessary. It is not part of Witten’s service to streamline the process, but Abend noted, “The point is well taken” and will be considered when the Planning Board later looks at updating the Affordable Housing Plan.

Stevenson endorsed the use of Witten: “I’ve been very impressed with his breadth of knowledge on these issues.” Tim Hult agreed, adding, “I think this is a great idea . . . but how far will we get?” He proposed that the Selectmen send a letter to relevant committees encouraging them to work with the Planning Board, and that the Planning Board meet with each to explain the process.

As the Selectmen endorsed the plan, Stevenson questioned who would oversee the contract and ensure the focus stayed on the right issues. Although Abend may be stepping down as Planning Board chair soon, Peterson noted there are multiple real estate lawyers on the board, “people who understand how to work with counsel.” ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito