Vol. IV No. 3 2/1/2023
by Bruce Blair
Zoning and conservation take it on the chin these days in Stockbridge. The market is a relentless driver of change, fueled by an almost unimaginable flow of money into the hands of a few folks who get their way via big-time help from lawyers, design engineers, developers, etc.
Overwhelmed by these well-funded teams, accused of the NIMBY defense, holding off allies of large-scale developers within their own ranks, our Town Boards and Commissions --made up of elected and appointed volunteers — struggle. They are beaten over the head by complex letter-of-the-law interpretations of zoning regulations, dense details, breezy assertions. Who wouldn't lose sight of the intent of the law sometimes?
The who-does-what dialogue going on at last among some members of the three primary governing bodies of Stockbridge — the Select Board, the Planning Board, and the Conservation Commission — is a reflection of this coupled with a desire to get it right. If we avoid our own rules and authority, institutionalize our failure to understand and enforce them, we come to a crossroads.
Our sense of scale has been challenged. People building unusually configured or enormous homes on the Bowl have helped trigger the realization that the intent of our zoning and conservation rules is about preserving the character of Stockbridge.
Watch a past public hearing for a Special Permit on video. You may hear a Chair ask the applicant what our other Boards decided about the application. Are recommendations and findings coordinated by the Boards themselves as a matter of course as they become public record? Each Board has its own regulatory purview, but all want the best outcomes for both applicants and the town. The Planning Board could approve a project permit Conservation has placed conditions on. Will the conditions be enforced? Is the permit valid? Our representatives have not always had the expertise to resolve questions and enforcement issues. They are volunteers who commit to serving Stockbridge. They are friends, neighbors, often people we know, doing increasingly difficult jobs.
The intent of our conservation and building bylaws is likely obvious to the majority of residents. We have chosen to make a life here based on the character of Stockbridge. There are some here who are asking what character means and maybe we are going to have to show them. 29% of us voted in our last election. How much do we care? We'd better start talking about it. Otherwise, the character — and ultimately the value — of living in this town may disappear.
Photo: Don Perdue