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North Adams Planners Eye Penalties for Permit Scofflaws

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Planning Board is looking at a zoning change that would give it more authority over permit scofflaws. 
 
"The board currently has at its disposal only one method of enforcement and that is to initiate fines," Chairman Michael Leary said at Monday's meeting. 
 
 "The board has been finding a number of our — or a small number I should say — of our special permit holders are out of compliance, have been out of compliance or repeatedly out of compliance and despite threats of enforcement and actual enforcement."
 
 The courts are the only avenue but have not been particularly effective. Leary told the board that inspections and the Community Development Office were suggesting a zoning ordinance that would allow the board to suspend and or revoke a permit from a special permit holder if they failed to comply with their permit. The ordinance is based on similar ones used in cities like Chicopee. 
 
 "It makes lot of sense to me and I agree that we need some more teeth," said Planner Brian Miksic. "That was something that we spoke about many times that we don't have the ability to revoke a permit and there's times we just need to, if anything, just to get someone's attention."
 
 The planners have for years complained about frequent flyers who bring their properties in compliance after a lot of nudging, only to violate the terms again and again. 
 
 "I think that it would go a long ways," said Building Inspector William Meranti. "You know making threats, issuing fines will only go so far. We've been around in circles with multiple [permit holders]... they'll come into compliance for a short period of time after a small fine and then right back out of compliance again.
 
 "I think that a real threat of revoking and an ability to revoke is important for enforcement."
 
Meranti referred to one of the "multiples" that had been mentioned at the start of the conversation, Odds and Ends located at 118 Eagle St. The board had received a "lengthy letter" from an abutter about violations. The letter was passed to Meranti to begin enforcement, again. 
 
Zachary Feury, project coordinator in the Community Development Office, said the  language in the zoning amendment provides the board with the ability to revoke suspend or alter a special permit or its conditions.
 
This, he said, was a three-step process. The first step would be for inspection services to submit an application for revocation suspension or alteration to the Planning Board. The board would hold a public hearing on the application and have up to 90 days to make a determination. If it doesn't make a decision in 90 days, the application would be considered rejected.
 
Miksic asked if the way the ordinance was structured, would the process always have to start with the inspectors?
 
Feury acknowledged that was true. The Planning Board or the Zoning Board of Adjustment, which is also a special permit granting authority, could raise any issues to the building or health inspector, he said.
 
"The way this is written is that only the Department of Inspection Services, through the building inspector and health inspector, can initiate these proceedings," Feury explained.
 
Miksec noted that they all often work together but wasn't sure of having the building inspector being the one to initiate the process rather than the board. 
 
 Leary asked if in a hypothetical situation the board discovered a violation, which it often does, "would it satisfy, the ordinance the way it's written now, for us to ask the building inspector to initiate the process?"
 
 Feury said yes, but then wasn't sure if the board could compel the inspector to initiate the way the language was written.
 
 Meranti said he couldn't imagine not but Leary pointed out Meranti wouldn't be here forever and what if the next inspector "just decides they're never going to do this because they don't want to."
 
 He asked if a sentence could be added to give the Planning Board the ability to initiate a compliance process as well. 
 
 "I'm 100 percent behind this. Whatever we can do to assist Bill in rectifying some of these repeat problems I'm 100 percent in favor," said Planner Kyle Hanlon. "And I just want to say that it's unfortunate that we have to go through this with the usual suspects that have been abusing the system for years."
 
Leary asked Feury to do more research into the ordinance and giving the Planning Board more authority over the process. He recommended holding off on a public hearing until that was done.
 
"I personally would rather wait to see if Zack can find an example of wording that might be updated to include the initiation of the process by the Planning Board or the other authorities before we schedule a public hearing," he said. "Because I want to try to cover all of our bases."
 
The board also heard from Nat Karns on proposed changes to zoning related to nonconforming structures and approved three business applications: Nathan McMillian to operate a taxi business at 195 Ashland St., Emilee Yawn to operate a gift and flower shop at 46-48 Eagle St., and Erika Bailey to operate a bakery at 57 Main St., inside Berkshire Emporium.

Tags: Planning Board,   special permit,   zoning,   

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North Adams City, School Officials Elect Daunis to School Committee

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — City and school officials on Thursday unanimously elected Emily Daunis to fill a vacant seat on the School Committee. 
 
Daunis, who ran unsuccessfully last year, was one of eight candidates who expressed interest in the vacancy.  
 
"I know how fortunate we are to have so many exceptional candidates and unfortunately we're only able to select one," said School Committee Vice Chairwoman Heather Boulger. "And I am putting forward the name of Emily Daunis, who's active already within the school system and is kind of catalyst in already making school policy change, and also happens to be the first runner up from the election from last year."
 
Boulger's nomination was seconded by City Councilor Jason LaForest. 
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