Friday, September 26, 2008
Selectmen approve Ferns expansion
After an intense summer of public meetings involving all major town boards, the Board of Selectmen (BOS), at its September 23 meeting, authorized the proposed site plan for Ferns Country Store with ten conditions. Store proprietor Larry Bearfield breathed a sigh of relief and thanked the board. It is not that the approval came without serious discussion and consideration of further delay. The decision was not unanimous with Selectman Al Carpenito casting the opposing vote.
The Planning Board held three public meetings over the summer, reviewed information from other boards and town departments. Planning Board Chair Michael Epstein explained, “We accumulate information, and synthesize it for your [BOS] benefit.” He added, “Of course, if we misread something or missed something, you would have the ability to modify the site plan.” After reviewing the information, Selectman Chair Doug Stevenson noted the need to include the Fire Department conditions which were inadvertently left out.
The site plan calls for an enlarged retail area of 2,559 square feet, formed by joining the existing store to the former garage. The new middle building would house the grocery, checkout and refrigeration areas. The facility would have two main entrances, in the front and in the rear, with the latter having handicapped access. The former garage would be renovated and house the proposed wine and beer retail area. The site would offer a new can and bottle return area.
The Planning Board recommendation causing the most contention involved a request for clarification with the town counsel of the bylaws’ permitted activities in a business district and whether all the uses in the Ferns site plan are allowed. Town Administrator Madonna Mackenzie reported that town counsel found the bylaw vague and in need of clarification.
“Ultimately it is our interpretation of the bylaw,” said Mackenzie who added that the bylaw could be read that “Everything going on in the Business District should not be going on.” The proposed beer and wine sales complicated the issue.
“I appreciate the board’s wanting to clarity our bylaws,” said Bearfield; however, he felt it unfair that this condition be attached to this specific site plan at this point. He noted that the town residents had “clearly spoken” in support of alcohol sales through their votes in the past two years. He mentioned that he had worked on the site plan with three different town building commissioners over the course of this plan. He was concerned that a delay imposed by bylaw review prior to approval of the site plan would impact his project funding and potentially kill the entire project.
Selectman John Williams agreed that the condition was unfair, “I think that we should take it out. It would be extreme to add it now.”
“You want to be very careful going down this line,” said Selectman Tim Hult. “Our zoning bylaws are a very serious document.” He called for bylaw review separate from the application. Selectman Carpenito questioned if someone could use the vague bylaw to appeal the decision in the future. Stevenson noted anyone’s right to appeal any decision, but felt the removal of the condition in this case was reasonable. Stevenson and Selectman Bill Tice concurred that the bylaw should be reviewed, but separate from this specific site plan.
The waiver of the $1,000 site review fee was not reconsidered by the BOS, although both the Conservation Commission and Planning Board (see “Shorts from the Planning Board, September 22, page 5) had suggested the Selectmen reconsider the waiver. The Selectmen approved the plan with the following summary of conditions:
1. Historical Commission approval of additional architectural features, signage and lightning.
2. Maintenance of the landscape and fencing by the site proprietor.
3. Parking in rear lot reconfigured to allow for two angled compact car stalls.
4. Additional signage clarifying entrances and driving and parking restrictions.
5. Allowance for additional lighting behind the store if deemed necessary by the Police Chief to address safety concerns.
6. Periodic review of traffic and parking conditions by the Police Chief after occupancy.
7. Submission of Construction Management Plan to building commissioner.
8. Meeting of public water supply and public restroom requirements by the Board of Health prior to installation of any eat-in seating area.
9. Adherence to recommendations made by the Fire Chief.
10. Selectmen’s right to modify approval of the site plan in the future.
“The description of the bylaws made them sound like mish-mash,” said David Freedman, associate member of the Planning Board. “They are the word of the people of the town.” He referenced the wind-generated turbine issue, and noted that “anything that is not specifically permitted is not allowed.” He called for a consistent approach to all issues by the Selectmen.
Additional building news
Building Commissioner John Luther discussed revised building permit fees which the Selectmen approved. The changes will simplify accounting and raise town revenue fairly by truly assessing applications for permit costs. The largest increase involves the building permit fee for new construction increasing to $10 (from $9) for each $1,000 in estimated project cost with a minimum fee of $250. Luther explained that the contractor, rather than the customer, should provide the estimate. Other increases include:
• $100 for wood burning appliance
• $100 re-roofing permit fee
• Electrical permit fees ($400 for up to 3,000 square feet, $600 up to 6,000, and $800 for above)
• Plumbing permit fees ($200 for up to 10 fixtures, $25 each additional)
The changes did include one reduction for a shed permit fee from $250 to $100. Stevenson quipped that he had saved $150 by not getting to his plans to build a shed this summer.
The Selectmen agreed to set the Annual Town Meeting for May 4, 2009 with a Town Election on May 12. The group discussed that a Special Town Meeting will probably occur sometime in January to discuss the proposed school building project. ∆
© 2008 The