Vol. II No. 05 3/1/2021
Opinion — A Challenge for the Planning Board
by Bruce Blair
The duties of our volunteer Planning Board have become more complex. Concerns range from understanding current bylaws, following meeting procedures, tracking the budget, and coping with public engagement to the technical aspects of decision-making for increasingly complex individual building projects.
Yet the Board's leaders continue to rush through a major housing development bylaw, calling it "Natural & Historic Resource Protection Zoning (NHRPZ"), which may well attract new developer construction in the town's green belt. If the Board chairs and their associates have their way, this major change will come up for a vote at the May town meeting, piggy-backed on a Cottage Era Estate development revision.
The state requires all towns to have a Master Plan, and the Planning Board must oversee it. The 1996 Stockbridge Master Plan is the most outdated of any in the region. The idea of rushing through a major bylaw change with little time for public involvement suggests that special interests may be at work to make this change happen ASAP. But we first need a new Master Plan that involves everyone.
The law says: "A planning board… shall make a master plan that is designed to provide a basis for decision making regarding the long-term physical development of the municipality." (Section 81D). It is the roadmap of our future.
The response to our outdated Master Plan from the Planning Board Chairs is to cite the 2016 Visioning Report. It concluded that participating residents (92%) wanted the preservation of "The Great Outdoors", and "Historic /rural charm and natural beauty"( 91%). But it also concluded: "The divergence of opinion about the future direction of housing points to the need for further community education and discussion on this topic." (Visioning Report Appendix).
"Education and discussion" have barely been addressed since 2016, but would be part of a new Master Plan.
The Visioners said: "Housing growth is a complicated issue facing most communities," and planning for it is more complex than the Visioning Project can accomplish. Visioning Report (page 4). And they say that a new a Master Plan should follow the report!
The Planning Board leadership has apparently run afoul of Open Meeting Law requirements in their rush to get their developer-friendly bylaw through. The Planning Board Chairs should support meaningful public input. This bylaw should not appear on the May town warrant without a new Master Plan. Yes, it is hard work and it takes time – because we need to get it right.
Line queues before entering Lost Lamb. Photo: Patrick White.