By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
NORTHBOROUGH – Two expiring Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) incumbent seats and an alternate seat had applicants vying for appointment consideration last month. Board of Selectmen Interview Committee members Jason Perreault and Scott Rogers held interviews on March 29 and 31. The Board of Selectmen voted on April 12.
Petition asks for new voices
Two separate citizen petitions to consider new ZBA applicants were submitted to the Board of Selectmen (BOS) in advance of their March 22 meeting.
“The practice of repeatedly reappointing board members who have presided for more than ten years while turning away new volunteers is creating a noticeable imbalance of influence on how our town is governed,” one such petition stated.
During later BOS discussion on April 12, Perreault said the petition represented a small percentage of residents, whose addresses were confined to areas in town which had contentious issues relating to land use.
Incumbents selected after discussion
In the end, incumbents Fran Bakstran and Mark Rutan were reappointed. One new applicant, Suzanne Cieslica, was recommended for the alternate seat unanimously. Selectmen Julianne Hirsh did not vote in favor of the reappointments and Selectmen Leslie Rutan recused herself from voting as her husband was one of the incumbents.
Cieslica’s prior experience as an attorney includes commercial and residential real estate, working closely with New York state municipalities, zoning boards, planning boards and town boards, as well as with residents.
John Wixted, Jonathan Rea, and Ashley Davies were also new applicants.
During the interview deliberations, Perreault said that Davies’s professional experience made her the most qualified applicant.
She holds a Juris Doctor and is licensed to practice law in Massachusetts. For the past 10 years, she has been a conservation specialist and has built collaborative relationships with surrounding towns. She has extensive knowledge of agriculture conservation and zoning bylaw interpretation. She is currently serving on the Northborough Open Space Committee and on the Master Plan Implementation Committee (MPIC).
Perreault, however, said on March 31 that it would be “too much of a load to also have her serve on the ZBA,” and said that her qualifications would serve the town better in her role on the MPIC.
Rea was reached for comment and said he thought the new applicants were more qualified than the incumbents.
“The best interest of the town is to have the most qualified candidates in the roles and the process failed,” he said. “The interviews and subsequent deliberation being in public domain on YouTube exposed that fair consideration is not given to candidates challenging incumbents.”
New members at the Zoning Board typically serve as an alternate to develop knowledge before transitioning to the full role.
“ZBA requires a significant amount of knowledge and familiarity with zoning bylaws and …understanding the legal framework in which you operate in order to arrive at sound decisions,” said Perreault.