NORTHBOROUGH – The Northborough Planning Board voted this past week to recommend a series of zoning articles headed to Town Meeting on Monday night.
The vote came, however, after Chair Kerri Martinek and Planning Board member Michelle Gillespie clashed over topics including what Martinek said were posts on social media “pushing” community members to fight against the board and the articles it was putting forward.
Gillespie immediately rebutted Martinek’s comments, calling her actions during the meeting “inappropriate.”
“I’m not going to go forward with your witch-hunt, Kerri,” Gillespie later said.
Amendment would ban new internally lit signs in downtown area
A sign bylaw amendment is one of nine zoning articles on the Town Meeting warrant.
Proposed by members Anthony Ziton and Amy Poretsky, the bylaw would, in part, define and regulate signs with internal lighting.
This revision to current bylaws would prohibit internally lit signs specifically in the downtown business district. The change would also ban internally lit signs in residential districts with the exception of agricultural signs.
The Planning Board has said that existing signs would be grandfathered in under this amendment, meaning that any business that currently has internally lit signs would be exempt unless their sign is destroyed or changed.
“This is just one tiny step in trying to bring some cohesive look to our signage in our downtown area,” Ziton said, noting that other towns have similar regulations.
Martinek, Gillespie debate social media
Gillespie has frequently expressed concerns about this amendment and its impact on businesses.
This latest discussion then took place in a meeting on Tuesday.
Martinek said she was “really disappointed” to see some members of the board putting messages on social media calling for people to come to the meeting that night and “pushing them to fight against the Planning Board.”
“I think, as a sitting member of this board, that’s really inappropriate to do as a member of the board,” she said.
Gillespie called Martinek’s comments “a false statement and a false accusation.”
“There are other members on this board who participate extensively on social media, speaking of yourself and Amy Poretsky,” Gillespie continued, speaking to Martinek.
“I don’t participate in social media,” Gillespie said.
Martinek also contended that Gillespie, who is a Realtor, should have said that she has an internally lit sign on her businesses in downtown Northborough prior to discussions about the sign bylaw amendment.
“I did what any business owner did,” Gillespie responded, indicating she was in compliance with town guidelines to get her sign. “I followed the bylaw. I made an application, and it was approved.”
Gillespie called on Martinek to move forward and allow the public to provide feedback on the proposed bylaws in this Tuesday meeting, which was a public hearing on the bylaws.
Planning Board recommends articles
Public feedback on the bylaws had been a topic of discussion, itself, prior to this meeting, with Selectman Scott Rogers voicing concerns about opportunities for the public to weigh in on these articles back in March.
He noted that any changes following the Planning Board’s public hearing wouldn’t be included in the Town Meeting warrant, since the board’s meeting had been scheduled to take place after the Selectmen closed the warrant on March 14.
Rogers previously asked that opportunities to provide public comment be made clear, saying that he had been waiting for a public hearing to share his thoughts.
“I feel I’ve missed the opportunity to make any substantial comments or adjustments to the proposed bylaws this year,” he said, noting the scheduling of the hearing after the warrant closed.
Martinek said the board had opened time for public comments “a couple of different times.”
Rogers argued that the public did not know when these opportunities would be taking place, however.
Martinek proceeded to allow some public comment on Tuesday on proposed zoning bylaws, which also include a bylaw adding language around breweries and a proposed moratorium on trucking and distribution uses.
However, she limited participation to Northborough residents, which meant some attendees who wanted to comment on the bylaws were unable to do so.
That included Corridor 9/495 Chamber of Commerce President Karen Chapman who had announced plans to speak on behalf of businesses against restrictions posed by the sign amendment.
The Planning Board ultimately voted to recommend all of its articles.
Town Meeting is scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m. at Algonquin Regional High School.