ZBA Chairman Michael Mach addresses the Selectmen at Tuesday's 'open forum' for town boards.
ADAMS, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen is hoping its "open forum" for other town boards will increase communications between governmental bodies and clear some air.
"I agree that this was a very productive meeting," said Chairman John Duval at the conclusion of the hour-or-so-long meeting. "We need to do it again. ... It's all good input. Communication is the key."
Several of the town's appointed and elected officials stressed the need to interact, particularly in bringing recommendations to fruition, and in the need to understand better how to operate as governmental bodies.
"It seems as though we're all working individually in our own vacuums and not coordinating the way we should," said Planner Sandra Moderski, who wanted to be assured that other boards weren't "pointing fingers" about controversial issues.
It has been particularly difficult year for the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board, which have had to review and vote on a contentious solar array.
"We need to know some procedures," said ZBA Chairman Michael Mach. "It's hard as a bunch of well-meaning amateurs like us here with 60 screaming people and we're like deer in the headlights."
Selectman Michael Ouellette said he had a part in developing the town's meeting procedures nearly 30 years ago. Holding up the documents, he said he didn't understand why other boards did not have them and that, in the past, new officials were provided with them. Mach was advised to obtain a copy through the town clerk, which he said he would.
The bulk of the meeting was taken up with discussion over issues with zoning, with Mach warning that the town needs to look at bylaw changes to prevent problems like the solar farm proposed for East Road. Chickens and livestock downtown were on his mind, as well as the development of medical marijuana facilities, he said. "It's only a matter of time before that comes here."
"Some of the writing in our bylaws is vague," he said. "We don't have anything to go by."
ZBA member Peter West urged the board to consider other zoning changes, such as certain home occupations and signage. Some areas, such as Park Street, should be "by right" for commercial and retail, he said. Instead of coming before the ZBA for a special permit, some businesses should be able to get their permits and signage approval from the building commissioner.
"I think that could be a user-friendly thing," he said. "Some of the signs that come before the board could have been approved right away by the building commissioner."
West also noted that home occupations have changed dramatically since zoning was established, including home businesses that didn't exist until the Internet. The town should also review lot sizes for septic systems because of advances in technology there and consider where more cluster zoning would be appropriate, he said, pointing to a model bylaw by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission that he described as "developer friendly" in terms of calculating projects and lot sizes.
"That's the kind of specifics I'd like to have from your board," said Selectman Arthur "Skip" Harrington, who encouraged the Zoning Board to mark up the bylaws with recommendations.
Mach thought that role should be the Planning Board's since it develops bylaws. Duval, however, requested that the ZBA provide the recommendations with a letter for the Selectmen to review.
"They're going to present to us some specific ideas and changes and we will take a look at it and pass it on to the Planning Board," he said.
Duval said he was interested in a suggestion by Moderski to have the chairman or vice chairman of the town's boards and committees meet regularly to share information about what their panels were doing or what could be done better. West added that the Selectmen should determine the mechanism for sharing information, either through a liaison or the Community Development Department.
Above, Selectmen Skip Harrington asked for specifics of zoning issues; right, Parks Commissioner James Fassell wanted the Selectmen to attend a parks meeting.
James R. Loughman, chairman of the library trustees, gave the board a rundown on some of the top issues at the library: the building renovation is moving along, it is now a full participant of C/W-MARS, the trustees may ask for an additional staffer based on the findings of an awaited efficiency report, the hard-working Friends group has been successful with its programs and the historic Memorial Hall is a planned stop for a large bus tour coming through the town.
He had no questions of the board, and the board none for him, although they took time to compliment the library's efforts.
Parks Commissioner James Fassell said he didn't want to get into specifics, asking that someone from the Selectmen meet with his commission. "We work for you," he said. "We have three new members and we're going in all directions."
Duval said he would attend the Parks Commission meeting. Harrington said it was important that the boards be able to communicate their needs to the Selectmen, "because if it doesn't get to us, it doesn't get to the Finance Committee, and if it doesn't get to the Finance Committee, it doesn't get to town meeting."
The forum was designed for members of boards to speak to the Selectmen, but not as representing their panels. There were two members each from the ZBA and library trustees, and one each from the Planning Board and Parks Commission; none of the boards had a quorum.
"I think it was really nice of you to get us all together here," said Mach. "We've received a lot of information from you.
"I think this is going to go along way toward bringing all of our boards together and we'll be able to serve the town of Adams a lot better."