I am so appreciative of the public along with the abutters who bother to show up about building projects here in the city. I attended the Planning Board meeting this last Wednesday primarily over the Oleo Woods Development that will soon abut the Little River Bike Path (and the Little River Nature Trail just east of it.)
While I was waiting, the board was reviewing the 251 Merrimac Project. The applicant wants to put in an additional building just south of the historic building. To justify the 6C project, public benefit must be shown. It was done in two ways: First, the historic building had a preservation easement put on it held by the Newburyport Historical Commission. Second, money was put toward the affordable housing trust to help increase the inventory toward the goal of 10%. (So we could beat off damaging 40B developments that disregard local control, ordinances and zoning!)
Once the public hearing phase took place, the citizens present (I was delighted.) started expressing their concerns. So many boards and commissions will hear out the public, nod their head politely and say, ‘Thank you’ usually in a condescending way. But this was an abutter and he did it just right – he expressed his issues and then he did something entirely gratifying, he started to ask questions. The developer responded and right before our eyes, problems were being worked out. Dan Bowie, very wisely, let it happen.
Then the rest of those present began to express their issues. And this was where I was so impressed.
Dan Bowie, very carefully weeded out the legitimate, legal concerns and very kindly, with much sympathy; indicated where the law simply could do nothing or that the developer had the complete right to proceed.
For example, two testimonies involved the loss of their views of the Merrimack River. Dan Bowie kindly indicated that in Massachusetts there are no legal protections of views – unless of course, you purchase the property in that direction or make complicated arrangements for a preservation easement with neighbors. And of course, asserting the fact the owner had a right to build on that property as long as he followed the Section 6C provisions.
I was so impressed.
So many times the public comes to these hearings on various subjects. They aren’t versed on zoning, haven’t a clue on ordinances and are certainly not chapter and verse conversant with Massachusetts General Laws. I think the Planning Board should be given kudos for educating as well as taking input seriously.
Such wise handling of the public’s concerns amongst all our boards and commissions will help more and more of our citizens to gather the courage to participate in OUR GOVERNMENT.