Friday, December 4, 2009
Planning Board pegs unfunded mandates
In response to a request from the Board of Selectmen to identify unfunded mandates imposed by either the state or the federal government that can result in added cost to the town, the Planning Board on November 23 identified two areas: 40B developments and new restrictions on permitting of personal wireless communication facilities.
State law Chapter 40B allows developers to bypass local zoning restrictions as long as a portion of the units qualify as affordable housing. Vice Chair Michael Epstein suggested that the entire 40B legislation, involving both the project review expense and the cost of the infrastructure associated with the higher housing density, would qualify as an unfunded mandate.
Another unfunded mandate relates to wireless transmission facilities. Chair David Freedman gave an example that was brought to the board’s attention by the consulting firm, Broadcast Signal Lab. Responsive to a recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulation, the board may be under a severe time constraint to process requests for personal wireless facility special permits, at a time when there is budget pressure to reduce planning board staff support. According to a November 18 article in the media website Channel Web (www.crn.com), “FCC Pushes For Faster Wireless Tower Reviews,” A new FCC rule sets stringent time limits on the local government permitting process: 90 days for applications involving wireless antennas to be co-located on existing cell towers and 150 days for applications involving wireless facilities on new sites.
At present the Planning Board’s rules and regulations for wireless communications facilities do not specify how rapidly the public hearing process must proceed, but do state: “The Planning Board must make its decision on the Special Permit and site plan within 90 days of the close of the Public Hearing or within such extension of time as may have been agreed in writing between the applicant and the board.” Advice will be requested from Town Counsel on how to proceed.
Administrator George Mansfield identified a cost element not specifically related to unfunded mandates, but that “does come up on a regular basis.” He said that most requests for information by the public are handled quickly by either him or Assistant Gretchen Caywood. The reproduction cost can be passed on to the person requesting the information. However, he said, “You never know how much time will be involved until you get into it.” A recent request by an attorney regarding an old development took several hours – a file several inches thick had to be reviewed to elicit the answer.
Several suggestions were made by board members, including: Have every petitioner file a formal Public Records Request. Charge for every request (a user’s fee). Waive the fee for residents. Have the first half-hour free and charge the staff salary rate for added time. Consensus was to have Mansfield ask the Town Clerk for recommendations and determine what a formal Public Records Request involves. ∆
© 2009 The