By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter
NORTHBOROUGH – Northborough Planning Board Vice Chair Amy Poretsky recently expressed concern about advisory committees voting on specific projects, Oct. 5, after previously suggesting the town dissolve its Groundwater Advisory Committee, in particular.
“I do think advisory committees should not be voting because they’re only supposed to be providing recommendations or advice,” Poretsky said. “It’s a legal liability if two boards are voting on the same thing.”
This conversation arose out of a discussion of future zoning bylaws for Town Meeting. Poretsky had suggested on a different date that the town should eliminate its groundwater subcommittee, citing her own research of 90 Massachusetts municipalities when she said only Sherborn had such a committee.
The way the memos are written and the way that votes are taken could cause an issue, Poretsky said.
Poretsky said she has an example illustrating why she’s brought this forward. She said, however, that said example would have to be discussed in executive session due to litigation.
Although she didn’t cite a specific case in public discussion, the Planning Board has recently faced appeals in state land court after denying permit applications by Steris Corp. and the Gutierrez Company despite votes by the Groundwater Committee to recommend approval.
Outside of the Groundwater Committee, other advisory committees in question under Poretsky’s suggestion include the Design Review Committee, which Planning Board member Michelle Gillespie used to chair.
“They were always advisory,” Gillespie said. “They always knew. I don’t understand the comments you’re making. I think they’re false.”
Planning Board Chair Kerri Martinek recalled an application where the Design Review Committee recommended using stone and the Planning Board later recommended mulch.
“There was confusion by the applicant that it was already approved by Design Review,” she said.
Town Planner Kathy Joubert said it is made “very clear” that the advisory boards are advisory. The committees have to vote to advance any individual project, she said.
She estimated that half of her time is spent meeting with applicants, explaining the process of meeting with advisory boards.
“It’s every day, folks,” Joubert said. “I just think this is a big discussion about nothing.”
Discussion follows suggestion to dissolve Groundwater Committee
Poretsky, who used to serve on the Groundwater Committee, originally suggested dissolving the committee during an Aug. 17 Planning Board meeting.
As it currently operates, the committee gets a memo from Town Engineer Fred Litchfield regarding a given project. Litchfield checks off what’s been covered in terms of the town’s groundwater bylaw.
The committee, she said, then tells the applicant whether or not they meet requirements as reported in the memo. The committee then votes whether or not to read operation and maintenance manuals or stormwater reports, she said.
The Groundwater Committee isn’t doing deeper research other than looking at Litchfield’s memo, however, Poretsky said.
“I don’t think it’s anything that the Planning Board or the [Zoning Board of Appeals] as a special permit granting authority couldn’t do,” Poretsky said.
At that time, Planning Board member Millie Milton expressed concern about putting the task of reading such reports and surveys onto another committee.
“It’s not being done at all,” responded board member Anthony Ziton.
Gillespie suggested expressing these concerns to the committee.
Speaking on Oct. 5, Poretsky said that if the Planning Board wanted to keep the committee, the board could list what it hopes to get in terms of recommendations.
“After thinking about it, I do think the groundwater committee adds a lot by reviewing the applications before they come to the boards,” she said.
While it may not be a bylaw change, Poretsky said that the board could send a memo to the committee.