Peterborough Planning Board does not endorse petition that would limit their discretion

  • The Peterborough Town House Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/31/2021 4:36:17 PM

Peterborough’s current Open Space Residential Development regulations give the Planning Board some discretion on applying the ordinance, which is intended to preserve open space in a development’s layout. However, a proposed zoning amendment on the ballot this year could limit their options by eliminating a single sentence: “It is the intent of this section to authorize the Planning Board to modify any of the requirements herein as deemed reasonable by the Board.”

The Planning Board discussed the petition at Monday night’s meeting.

“Essentially, it grants the Planning Board a carte blanche to ignore the details of that part of the ordinance and permit whatever it likes,” petitioner Mike Tompkins wrote in an advance statement. “This could not have been the intention of the townspeople who voted to include the Open Space portion in the ordinance – they wouldn't have known about it and, if they had, wouldn't have imagined it would be applied in the way the Board is now doing,” he wrote.

He and other speakers expressed their worry that the Town Attorney recently understood the sentence to override parts of the OSRD ordinance that use “in no case” language to set minimum lot sizes and maximum density bonuses, as in the proposed Garland subdivision, which the Planning Board continues to review.

Decisions related to the Garland subdivision would not be affected by the petition’s outcome, Town Planner Danica Melone confirmed, since it had been submitted prior to the zoning amendment petition.

The Planning Board voted against endorsing the petition five to one. “We have our process, and this isn’t it,” Chair Ivy Vann said of what she saw as a “troubling” trend of petitioners annually attempting to change longstanding ordinances without the major public engagement, rewrites, and re-proposals that are standard. The Planning Board has operated under that ordinance for 15 years, Vann said, and periodically made use of the discretionary sentence. If it were repealed, applicants would need to apply for a variance in order for the Board to grant deviations from the OSRD code, the Board determined during the hearing.

Planning Board member Sarah Steinberg Heller said she felt the petition was “very driven” by the Garland subdivision discussion after several of the eight members of the public referenced it. Vann spoke to the need to consider the petition outside of the scope of the subdivision. “This is something we will live with forever, not just for this particular project,” she said.

The Board can use the ordinance’s discretion to bend developments in a more nature-preserving direction, Steinberg Heller said, and that was her motivation to retain the ordinance’s language rather than “some crazy power-grab.”

Fifty-four residents signed the petition, Tompkins said, and all members of the public who spoke Monday night were in favor of the repeal. Ballot voting is scheduled for May 11.


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