Vol. II No. 18 9/15/2021
Photo: Jay Rhind
Observing Town meetings for over a year, there is a common concern: enforcement. A well-known adage: there is no law without consequences.
Bylaws are laws. Stockbridge either enforces them or loses control over what happens in our village. Limiting what property owners can do, and limiting what individuals can do, in furtherance of the common good, is the point of laws.
An overlay district is a layer of standards applied in addition to (over) the extant bylaw. IT defines a district and grants it special protection. The Lake and Pond Overlay District (LPOD) grants extra protection to a lake dear to all of us. The protection is granted in full knowledge that what happens on shore enhances or endangers The Bowl. Everyone, perhaps especially those living on the lake, in their own interest, should observe every word of LPOD. Nonetheless…
The Conservation Commission (ConCom) had great difficulty encouraging and finally demanding that one lakeside owner correct violations. At a recent ConCom meeting, frustration boiled over due to continued noncompliance. ConCom suggested fines to encourage compliance. Even with that set of circumstances, the Select Board issued a Special Permit to the owner to build.
When a member of ConCom attended a Select Board (SB) meeting to ask why, he was told the SB had no choice. If that were true, what is the point of the special permit process? If that were true, what do the following words mean?
Stockbridge Town Counsel: “Special permit granting authorities possess broad discretion when evaluating a request for a special permit. Even if the record reveals that a desired special permit could lawfully be granted by the board…the board retains discretionary authority to deny the permit.”
Mass General Law c.40A - 9: “Special permits may be issued only for uses which are in harmony with the general purpose and intent of the ordinance…and such permits may also impose conditions, safeguards, and limitations on time or use.”
In fact, SB granted the permit with one condition. Did something prevent SB from attaching a second condition: that the owner comply with ConCom requirements and correct violations before commencing building?
Enforcement appears to be a concern across our government. Town Boards, commissions, and committees working as a community and reinforcing one another, can strengthen our government, our representatives, and enforcement of our bylaws. In turn that better protects our community and our community assets.
Carole Owens Managing Editor
Photo: Jay Rhind