I attended the public hearing last night at the Planning Board concerning the Springwell Investments, LLC’s application to do the development at Oleo Woods. Coupled with all the other applicants’ projects it was long and didn’t recess until about 11:00!
So I was so impressed by the fact that some abutters from Russell Terrace and Russell Terrace Extension were present and some made comment. Hopefully their presence will be a sign of a new attitude. This neighborhood has a terrible reputation of not caring what goes on in the area. The City allows a cell tower to practically abut a homeowner and the result? Silence.
But instead of ignorantly blustering, they did something very clever.
Now, what often happens in the rarified air of volunteer boards is something akin to a, “friend of the court”. You know, the judge knows the lawyers and the staffs know the court staff and there is usually a gaggle of commonly-appearing ‘experts’ who testify in a wide range of cases. That is why defending yourself in a court of law is an act of a fool. You’re an outsider trying to break into the ‘club’.
This same situation occurs at the Conservation Commission, Historical Commission, Planning Board and the ZBA. These become the haunts of consultants, engineers, ‘experts’ and lawyers who often have a familiarity with the Planning Office and some recognition of who is on each board. They are all familiar with technical concepts and terms that are bantered about at each meeting. Heck, after awhile, you’d think they have developed some secret handshake for all the familiarity going around! AND THE PUBLIC HARDLY EVER ATTENDS.
Sadly, these boards which are supposed to provide benefit to all of Newburyport then end up hearing only what the developer wants. And we all suffer.
When you as a citizen do show up, as an outsider what do you do? You don’t know what all the abbreviations stand for; you have no idea of past rulings and the long range plans of the City. And you certainly don’t know the secret handshake!
YOU ASK QUESTIONS!
Talk about leveling the playing field. All of a sudden, highly-technical consultants and fancy lawyers are scrambling for an answer. They have to do the digging now before the face of the public. And often, the innocent public help out the boards by inadvertently revealing information that was not part of the standard spiel.
That is what the Russell Terrace abutters did last night. And, no; it wasn’t done in a polished way but their probing questions ended up revealing things the Planning Board hadn’t heard otherwise.
And that helps just about everyone!
So, instead of thinking up some oratory that will impress everyone, come with questions next time you attend these meetings – IN THIS WAY, YOU’RE VERY PRESENCE COULD ENLIGHTEN AND IN MANY WAYS HELP THE CITIZENS OF NEWBURYPORT.