Northborough Planning Board discusses changes to enforcement bylaw

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NorthboroughNORTHBOROUGH – The Northborough Planning Board is considering adding additional language to its zoning bylaws after receiving questions from residents regarding bylaw enforcement.

Inspector of Buildings and Zoning Enforcement Officer Bob Frederico recently said, however, that those questions were not forwarded to him. He further argued that the proposed changes were redundant had already been revisited by the legal department and the town last year.

“What you’re doing here is messing with something that the legal department set up last year and that the town approved at Town Meeting,” Frederico said during a joint meeting of the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals on Jan. 18. “The fact that you want to rewrite a lot of this stuff – it’s redundant and it could open up other issues where problems could arise.”

“There are so many issues in here that are overstated or could be construed to be incorrect,” Frederico continued. “This is a dangerous thing to do.” 

Details of changes

Planning Board member Amy Poretsky first proposed the addition. 

It would, in part, include language specifying enforcement of conditions on special permits and variances.

Frederico contended, however, that those are already enforced because they become part of the zoning bylaws when such special permits or variances are issued. 

The addition would also allow Frederico to take action against violators without a written request detailing an alleged violation.

Under the current bylaw, Frederico must first receive that request before conducting an investigation.

“When I did bring this forward, it had nothing to do with any business or anyone in particular,” Poretsky said. “I was just trying to give Bob what he might need to go forward if he might need it.”

She said she found similar language in other towns’ bylaws. 

In addition to the change regarding written requests, these amendments would add language stating that, if the inspector finds a violation, he would give written notice of the violation to the owner and order that the violation immediately cease. 

The bylaw change would, lastly, add language allowing the town to revoke a permit in cases where a permit holder refuses to correct a violation. The town could also go to the court seeking an injunction to prevent further use of premises in these cases.

Education

Frederico said that, in most cases, individuals committing zoning infractions don’t know they’re doing so. 

“One of the things we try to do is educate people and we give them a chance to comply before we go the enforcement route,” Frederico said.

Something minor, such as taking down a sign, could be remedied within a day or two, he said.

Offenders further have an opportunity to appeal Frederico’s determinations to the Zoning Board of Appeals. 

In situations that end up going to court, Frederico said judges want to know if the town gave the owner the opportunity to fix the infraction or have a chance to appeal. 

Beyond Frederico, members of the Zoning Board of Appeals on Jan. 18 expressed concerns about some of the proposed language.

“I think it’s overly broad. I think the original definition is fine. It’s adequate. It’s very succinct,” said ZBA Chair Richard Rand. 

The Planning Board later revisited this bylaw during their Feb. 1 meeting. Poretsky added language to the bylaw that gave the violators time to correct the infraction. 

At that time, the board was still awaiting feedback from town counsel, which is reviewing this proposal.

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