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Town Issues: Corkboard

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Royr - Thu, Apr 4, 2013, 10:12 A
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Doug,

Thanks for your comments. Can you possibly provide a copy of the Comprehensive Plan as it does not seem to be readily available on the Town's website.

Certainly the Comprehensive Plan is one document that the Town should rely on though it has not been updated since 1999. The 2004 Housing Plan, in its section on zoning recommendations, makes no mention of a reduction of unit size. It also says that the Town should "require new multi-family construction to meet design standards and limits on the number of units to ensure compatibility with existing neighborhoods."

The Community Development Strategy,completed for the 2013 CDBG application says the following:

"To maintain and enhance quality of life in the town’s residential neighborhoods.

To encourage a mix of housing types, densities, prices and ownership patterns that
serve diverse Montague households while maintaining the community’s character.

To direct growth and development of new housing to areas that have the resources and services to accommodate it, while protecting important agricultural, natural, scenic and historic resources from residential sprawl."

The RFP also makes mention of maintaining community character.

So I think that these are all points that should have been discussed by both the ZBA and the Planning Board prior to making decisions.

Does this development (MCS) maintain the community's character?
Does Montague Center have the resources and services to accommodate this sudden growth?
Does this variance have any bearing on the protection of other land? In fact there has also been some residential sprawl in Montague Center without any discussion of this by the Planning Board.

Further the Housing Plan and the Community Development Strategy explicitly state the need for a mix of housing types that should include at least some affordable housing which is not included in the proposal for the Montague Center School.

I am not suggesting that a reduction in unit size is inappropriate, only that many other factors should have been discussed prior to what appears to be hasty decisions on the part of the boards involved.
 
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ddz - Thu, Apr 4, 2013, 9:23 A
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Ok, I’ll take this one Mike…

Mark, the Master Plan serves as a framework for the development of zoning regulations that support a vision for the future of our community. The Master Plan actually does support the idea of creating reduced unit sizes if they meet the criteria I tried to describe in my previous post. I actually believe that smaller unit sizes than currently allowed does make sense and is entirely appropriate in the village centers. I think, too, that the Master Plan calls for the Planning Board to do exactly what they are trying to accomplish here in interpreting the vision of the plan into new zoning regulations that reflect the changing reality of the current time. If you take the Montague Center School out of the picture here for just a moment, the idea of allowing 700 square ft apartments isn’t unreasonable at all in my view. By way of example, Cliffside Apartments in Sunderland offer 400 square foot 1 bedroom and 650 square ft two bedroom units…I lived in both in my younger days and found them to be quite nice and affordable for a struggling student. So, strictly from a size standpoint I don’t think that the proposal is setting an unreasonable standard.
I actually wrote to the town planner and shared my views and received a very thoughtful answer and could easily find myself supporting the proposal if it weren’t so linked to what’s happening at the MCS. So Mark, the question I have for you and others is what is it you are really against- the MCS proposal or reasonably sized dwelling unit standards for the community? It is possible to be for one and against the other. Unfortunately, I think that the ZBA, rather than looking at the more important site issues such as the wetlands, the parking and traffic issues(where are 50 cars going to park on School Street?), the impact of adding such a concentration of people into a small area in one project and using their authority to find a balance between the needs of the developer and the abutters they mis-applied the law with respect to variances.This set up the dynamic where the only way the people who don’t want the MCS project to move forward, as approved, is to rally against what otherwise would be a reasonable proposal with respect to minimum dwelling size.I fully expect the ZBA will lose the appeal of their original decision and we'll be back to square one at the MCS. If there was a way that the ZBA and the Town could unwind the process and negotiate with the developer of the MCS a reasonable accommodation that really addressed the valid concerns of the abutters of this project then I think the dwelling size proposal could be more easily de-linked and stand a better chance of being approved at Town Meeting and BOTH proposals could move forward in some form.
 
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Mark1 - Thu, Apr 4, 2013, 8:16 A
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Mike:

Guess what. I've heard AND listened to the rationale for this zoning regulation change. Still not into it.

If all you can come up with is prim chastisements to "listen more" then you have nothing to offer.

I challenge you and anyone else to produce one new idea or piece of evidence that has not already been promulgated by the proponents of this change and bring it forward, right now.

To be clear a new piece of evidence is not:

- being scolded for not having an "open mind"
- pointing to a master plan which doesn't call for reduced unit sizes to spur infill development
- quoting from emails and attempting snarky putdowns.

Mark1
 
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LeeWicks - Thu, Apr 4, 2013, 8:11 A
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Mike,
I think it is important to acknowledge a little history here. People in Montague did not object to the original proposal for 16-18 units. During the long hot summer, the prolonged water pipe project aimed directly at the school caused some to believe that other developers might have come forward had they known that the water service was to be improved and the town would pick up the bill. In the fall the developer said he needed 22 units for financial viability. I, for one, wonder why he didn't know that when he submitted his proposal. When the abutters sued over a variance that would allow him to squeeze 22 units into the building by reducing the size of some units, the Town turned around and proposed a zoning change for all the villages. There are people who want to make sure that zoning changes are done in a mindful way and not just as an accommodation for one project. People have been listening and paying attention to this developing issue, and I think it's important to acknowledge that the ground keeps shifting.
 
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MikeNaughton - Wed, Apr 3, 2013, 9:34 P
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Mike: "I believe the town planner is preparing answers to those very questions, among others. I'm ready to listen carefully to the answers and to try to consider them on their merits. Are you?"

Mark1: "I have no reason to depict myself as a fence sitter. It's like those absurd diner interviews on NPR during a presidential campaign. Is there really a defensible position in the middle? Of course not."

Mike: Okay, I'll just put that down as a "no".

In the discussions of the proposed MC School project, there have been a number of comments to the effect that town officials have not "listened to" or "heard" the concerns of the abutters or "the community". I believe that listening and hearing are two-way operations, and abutters and "community members" who have no interest in opinions that are different from their own are as much a part of the problem as town officials (if they exist) who have no interest in public input.
 
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newbie - Wed, Apr 3, 2013, 9:17 A
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Sitting up here on the mountain watching the dare I say battle, I have come to two conclusions. #1 the school should have NEVER closed and #2 you folks in Montague Center DO NOT LIKE ANY CHANGE to the status quo. Look at the polling place change. I would bet the farm that if the change was in ANY other of the villages there word be NOT ONE word against it. The old NIMBY.............Course I'd probably P&M if it were to be built next to me. It's called human nature. I know my old dude is going to vote against the change at the Town Meeting...
 
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Mark1 - Tue, Apr 2, 2013, 8:56 P
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Mike,

I have no reason to depict myself as a fence sitter. It's like those absurd diner interviews on NPR during a presidential campaign. Is there really a defensible position in the middle? Of course not.

As for this regulation change, there is no way the Town Planner or anyone else can convince me (and a significant number of other Montague residents, as far as I can tell) that this rule change is a good idea.

It is irrevocably tainted with the stink of the Montague Center School boondoggle and has no prior precedent in either recent public planning proposals or the town's master plan.

I'm not going to pretend to consider the town's post hoc rationalizations and I urge every other Montague resident and TM member to do the same.

Mark1
 
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MikeNaughton - Tue, Apr 2, 2013, 7:43 P
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Thanks for your perspective, Doug! As usual, you've made a useful contribution to the discussion.

I'm afraid you may be right that it may have become impossible to consider this proposed zoning change without both participants and bystanders looking at it as a referendum on the proposed MC School project. In my mind, that would be a good reason to hold off until that project is resolved.
 
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MikeNaughton - Tue, Apr 2, 2013, 7:42 P
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Mark1 -

"Your position is _not_ 'neither for nor against.' By presenting the issue of infill development and higher density as a fait accompli, essentially saying, 'it's gonna happen anyway,' you're aligning yourself with the proposed change."

Please, that's nonsense. Believing that population density will increase in village centers and supporting any particular zoning change are two different things. Maybe you can't tell them apart, but I can.

"So following your logic, if it's gonna happen anyway, why try to fight it? Might as well drop the unit size significantly."

Again, _not my logic_. Yours, maybe, but not mine.

"This town doesn't need town meeting members pretending to be 'neither for nor against.' It needs town meeting members willing to ask the tough questions: Why is the town proposing changing a town-wide zoning regulation in response to one issue that's preventing redevelopment of a town owned property? How is this change justified and not just an attempt at spot zoning in favor of one developer?"

I believe the town planner is preparing answers to those very questions, among others. I'm ready to listen carefully to the answers and to try to consider them on their merits. Are you?
 
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JohnTobey - Tue, Apr 2, 2013, 12:13 P
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Hi Bill!

Watched 1:13 to 1:20, and now I've got my Alex Jones fix for the year, thanks!

"We use the truth, they use lies." I enjoy the dirt on the CFR, UN, TPP, Bilderbergers, etc., etc., but it is not so clear to me that Peak Oil and Global Climate Change are complete hoaxes. The mere existence of an evil, scheming elite does not imply it.

Where is the science?

http://blogs.kqed.or...bal-warming-is-real/

Given that some, perhaps a majority of us who have studied the matter, sincerely believe the world faces an energy and environmental crisis, should you not focus on disabusing us of this notion? To get the ball rolling, I will assume anything you like about the elite's motives.
 
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ddz - Tue, Apr 2, 2013, 11:31 A
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I was one of those planners who worked on the master plan way back when. There were many reasons for encouraging denser, in-fill development in the various village centers. Among them were the availability of basic infrastructure such as water and sewer connections that supported the greater population density and a desire to create a critical mass that would encourage more local businesses that depended on a certain amount of (foot)traffic to be viable. The idea was, that over time, all the village centers would be able to be self-supporting to whatever extent possible and a focus for a fuller community life that moved beyond bedroom commuter islands that turned into ghost towns during the day. There was also a recognition way back before it was the “in” thing, that open spaces and local agriculture were assets that once lost were gone for all future generations and must be preserved and promoted.
The master plan process included a number of meetings in each village where we presented our ideas, listened to the community, re-crafted our proposals and then went back into the community and had a reality check. This was ground-up community development and democracy in action driven by a committed group of citizen volunteers. As for Montague Center, using guidance provided by the master plan the zoning was changed pro-actively to allow neighborhood business along the main street and adaptive re-use of the number of barn structures that opened up possibilities to grow local commerce in service to the community. Prior to that, if the mini- mart had closed the pre-existing zoning would not have allowed a new store to takes its place. Can you imagine having to drive to Turners Falls or Sunderland to get a gallon of milk? How about a place to pick up a bite to eat, your hair cut, your car serviced etc?

As for the current proposal, I don’t think the real question is whether denser development in the village centers makes sense, it’s more a question of how dense is dense enough and what is the goal of that development? I believe that more and affordable housing is needed in the center both for younger people who wish to plant roots here as well as older folks who do not want to be uprooted as they age and their needs and finances change. I believe that looking at the proposal in terms of how it can promote a more energetic, cross generational, and engaged community and how it reflects our shared values offers the most potential for moving the scene forward positively.
Finally, I am troubled by the perception the planning board opened themselves up to by only starting the process of looking at minimum dwelling sizes after a specific project had been proposed and roundly rejected by the abutters. A coincidence or not, there are times that perception truly does become reality. I strongly urge the planning board to withdraw their proposal at town meeting and create a forum that involves greater community outreach and involvement and moves beyond a discussion of square footage to one that encourages a clear statement of values and a vision of what the village centers could look like 10 or twenty years down the road. In my estimation, we are rapidly moving to a time when access to local, sustainable goods and services as well as the scial connections of between people of all ages, races, incomes etc will be a part of a healthy life and as in the natural world, diversity brings resilience.
 
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Mark1 - Tue, Apr 2, 2013, 8:09 A
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Mike,

Your position is _not_ "neither for nor against." By presenting the issue of infill development and higher density as a fait accompli, essentially saying, "it's gonna happen anyway," you're aligning yourself with the proposed change.

So following your logic, if it's gonna happen anyway, why try to fight it? Might as well drop the unit size significantly.

This town doesn't need town meeting members pretending to be "neither for nor against." It needs town meeting members willing to ask the tough questions:

Why is the town proposing changing a town-wide zoning regulation in response to one issue that's preventing redevelopment of a town owned property? How is this change justified and not just an attempt at spot zoning in favor of one developer?

Mark1
 
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BillBry - Tue, Apr 2, 2013, 5:31 A
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I warned you all about Agenda 21 over the years and now it is here pushing this project forward against the will of the People. I told you so! Other states and towns have written laws and regulations against Agenda 21 because it is tyrannical. This developer has all the ties to federal funding (stolen tax money) all the other green developers use across the country. Cui bono this developers cash flow into other projects completed and you will see.... I TOLD YOU SO!! Wednesday (3-20-13) Rosa Koire explained the scam on you again. Wake up folks! I care about you, but you cant see tyranny if it was kicking in your door! The big gun buildup by The People is not because of hunting.... The green dictatorship is the big reason...

At an hour thirteen the interview explaining what is happening here begins.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hw_04vpWq6M
 
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MikeNaughton - Mon, Apr 1, 2013, 10:59 P
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Clark - you're certainly more familiar with the history of the plan than I am, (and to repeat, I am NOT defending "bee hive" development), but whatever the intent of the planners was, IMHO it stands to reason: if you're going to encourage new housing in village centers and not along the corridors (which I believe is what the plan did -- can we agree on that?), then the effect over time (assuming population growth) is going to be to increase population density in village centers.

That's all I was saying. And that simple statement argues neither for nor against a 22-unit apartment complex in the MC School.
 
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Clark - Mon, Apr 1, 2013, 10:27 P
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I really think the "Long Range Plan" is being mis -interpreted , at least as I remember my past particiption in it.

I believe the "intent" was to maintain the "five" 5 villages as the "centers" of the "most" dense areas , but NOT to INCREASE the denisty of any given village .
There was ALWAYS an expressed concern of allowing or encouraging "bee hive" types of deveopment. !!! Clark
 
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MikeNaughton - Mon, Apr 1, 2013, 5:05 P
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"You're trying to use this plan as a critique of those opposed to this change."

No, I wasn't -- I was responding to Montocentrist's statement that "Lowering the min apt size will allow, in various cases, an increase in neighborhood density all over Montague" by pointing out that increasing neighborhood density in the "villages" is part of Montague's current plan for the future. I tried to be very careful NOT to take a position on this particular proposal.

"do you think it is a good idea to change a town-wide regulation with wide ranging impacts in order to help the town offload ONE surplus property?"

In my opinion, there would have to be a better reason for changing the by-law than the one you describe.
 
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JeffSingleton - Mon, Apr 1, 2013, 7:46 A
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Not to straddle the fence but I think both Mike and Mark1 are right.

As Mike argues, the Master Plan creates a strong argument for the Montague Center project: increased density in village centers as opposed to new construction destroying woods and fields. Also, one would assume, use of an existing building rather than new construction. There are also good environmental arguments for reducing the minimum square footage: smaller apartments that use less energy are being advocated in progressive planning.

The problem is, as Mark 1 points out, neither the Master Plan nor the actions of town government (in particular the Planning Board) raised the issue of reducing the minimum footage prior to this particular project. So it does not seem like a planning decision, just a decision to move the goal posts to get this particular project through. In the context of all the other stuff that has happened with this building - the rejection of the Horace Mann proposal after moving the goal posts on that, potential violations of state law re procurement, community input appearing to be ignored, a ZBA decision that seems to ignore the criteria for variances.... this really does not seem like thoughtful "planning."

(The rhetoric that implies that the town is trying to unload a building at all costs to benefit a money-hungry developer will probably not fly at town meeting.)
 
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Mark1 - Sun, Mar 31, 2013, 10:05 P
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Mike,

Does the master plan call for a reduction in minimum square footage in order to achieve the desired "neighborhood density"? My guess is not, or this would have come up a long time ago. You're trying to use this plan as a critique of those opposed to this change.

There are plenty of ways to create infill housing and higher density without going buns-up for a developer who wants to maximize cash flow.

I ask you as a town meeting member: do you think it is a good idea to change a town-wide regulation with wide ranging impacts in order to help the town offload ONE surplus property?

Mark1
 
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MikeNaughton - Sun, Mar 31, 2013, 8:50 P
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"Lowering the min apt size will allow, in various cases, an increase in neighborhood density all over Montague."

Without expressing an opinion on either the proposed MC School development or the proposed zoning bylaw change, it should be remembered that Montague has had for several years a Master Plan that calls for "an increase in neighborhood density all over Montague".

Specifically, it endorses the idea of "village centers" linked by "corridors",with the idea that housing should be encouraged in village centers but not along corridors (where scenic open space such as farmland should be encouraged).

If you assume that more people are going to want to live in Montague, it seems worth asking where they're going to live. The master plan says, increase density in places that are already pretty dense; do not destroy valuable farmland and wreck scenic areas by putting a driveway every 150 feet along, say, Turners Falls Road. And if you're going to try to increase density and at the same time keep housing "affordable" (which is a euphemism for "cheap", since rich people do not have an "affordability" problem ;-)), then arguably allowing smaller housing units is a viable option.

The master plan was put together by people who were both intelligent and committed to trying to formulate a good vision for a future Montague. That doesn't mean it's perfect, but it does exist, and it is taken seriously by people in town government (e.g. the planning board) -- because why shouldn't it be? What's the point of having a master plan that everyone ignores?

So, unless someone comes up with a new master plan, increased density in the village centers is likely to be part of our future. I'm not sure trying to argue that that's a bad thing is going to get you very far ....
 
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JeffSingleton - Sun, Mar 31, 2013, 11:30 A
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Montaguecentrist writes

"That's true, and in the actual RFP, it was framed very carefully that the minimum unit size of each apartment should be "at least 900 sq ft" in order to be sensitive to the character of the neighborhood."

This is a strong argument if true. You can not put out an RFP and then essentially throw something as important as this out the window once the contract is awarded. I would urge you to get your ducks in order before town meeting to prove what you are saying, with the appropriate RFP docs and quotes.

I doubt some of the other comments will be very helpful. For example the ZBA request for a variance as some sort of "bluff" by the developer who is just trying to gain excessive profit does not seem very well supported. Critics continue to completely ignore some very positive aspects to this project and in fact some of the good reasons why the 700 foot minimum may be a bad idea. These things will resonate with the majority at town meeting I suspect
 
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montcentrist - Sun, Mar 31, 2013, 10:19 A
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re Jeff's comment:

Not only were there seven hours of ZBA hearings on the school but also there were a number of hearings in Montague Center that produced the RFP that led to the proposal.

That's true, and in the actual RFP, it was framed very carefully that the minimum unit size of each apartment should be "at least 900 sq ft" in order to be sensitive to the character of the neighborhood.

The ZBA, however, was eager to scrap minimum apt size to accommodate the developer's bluff. In doing so, they not only violated the intent of the RFP (and invalidated the community input that went into it) they also violated the law. Hence, the corrective appeal of the variance decision.

With everyone safely betting that that decision will likely be won by the abutters, the Planning Board now rushes to scrap the entire law! It seems 'Development' is the new idol to be worshiped, in pursuit of tax revenues over quality of life and the protections of existing zoning.

Lowering the min apt size will allow, in various cases, an increase in neighborhood density all over Montague. So, if you are currently enjoying your neighbors in that 2 unit apt next door, then having that turn into a 3 or 4 unit building should just bring more joy.

And instead of the approx 11-15 units consciously envisioned by the RFP, Montague Center will see an unprecedented 22+ unit apartment complex with 33+ bedrooms & parking for 50 cars, including the loss of some of the community ball-field park that the developer has already requested from the town for his tenants parking use and is likely to be granted.

The developer's own proposal submitted in response to the RFP, outlines only 16-18 units that will quickly pay off his construction debt, yield over $80K in profit and equity in the first year & would soon begin to yield over $200,000 in profit per year for him. Does anyone really believe he needs MORE than that? I guess the town boards do, as they yielded to him permission to develop 22+ units, with up to 10 of them below the legal minimum size. All of this in fixed disregard of any citizens' calls to mitigate neighborhood impact by reasonable (and legal) limits on density.

I hope the town meeting members see through this & vote no on the zoning change, if only in the interest of protecting their own neighborhoods.
 
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mickjen - Sun, Mar 24, 2013, 12:01 P
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I'm not fully online and can't read the volume of threads here, but as someone who lived in a Housing Authority property that was considered a SRO, (not even a studio) I don't think changing the square footage bylaw is a good idea.

I'm not aligning the proposed developer with the corrupt Housing Authority, Board of Health or Housing Court. But I am saying I've had numerous problems with an established "developer", who was already "granted an exception". There's NO shortage of housing in Montague, but there is a shortage of affordable housing in the Center and quality housing in Downtown.

I didn't attend the zoning meeting, does anyone know if there is an MCTV video? ( I don't know who said it, but I completely agree that many Town departments don't have what is supposed to be "public information" listed at all online, let alone any updates being on time!)
 
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JeffSingleton - Sun, Mar 24, 2013, 9:35 A
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Mike et al..

I agree with Mike but it would be nice if we could learn something from this whole experience and improve the process moving forward.

Unfortunately what is happening right now seems to continue in the same direction. We now have an article apparently coming before town meeting to reduce the minimum square footage in the bylaw from 700 feet to 500 feet. In theory I am inclined to support this, although my mind is definitely not made up. I believe they also will propose to allow square footage under 500 feet by special permit, which is of course a lower bar than a variance. I have questions about this unless it is clear what the standard for the special permit is.

The problem is, in the context of the history of this building and the proposed project, this article will definitely be interpreted by many in the community as an effort to shove the project down the community's throat. Honestly you can hardly blame people for feeling that way and for thinking that the article is specifically designed for this project.

With all due respect to our town planner and the planning board, that really is not "planning," which is supposed to be making decisions for the long term not incremental decisions based on the needs of specific projects.
 
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MikeNaughton - Sat, Mar 23, 2013, 7:08 P
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".... if people cannot vote, then at least they want to feel heard."

Yes, absolutely, and IMHO they should. As I tried to say in my earlier post, if there is a problem here (and I'm relying on what I've heard and read, since I was not there), it's that the people who showed up to oppose the project did (do) not feel that they were heard. From what I've heard, the ZBA did little or nothing to acknowledge the points of view that were expressed, and if that's true then it seems like a mistake. I want to be cautious because I _don't_ know all the facts, and I have occasionally run into people who don't feel that they've been heard until everyone around them agrees with them, but I have no reason to think that might have happened here.
 
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Royr - Sat, Mar 23, 2013, 11:26 A
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Jeff, Mike,

First, I don't know anyone who has suggested that there is corruption!

I want to also clarify that I do understand how the system works, for better or worse, and don't expect all issues to be voted on Town-wide. I was expressing frustration about the way the ZBA handled the situation which in my view made the public hearing process irrelevant and further that I think democracy demands reasonable discussion of the issues. If we all can't vote then at least we can expect careful consideration of issue that are important to the community.

I guess we can argue over the meaning of democracy for ever, but if people cannot vote, then at least they want to feel heard.
 
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